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Get in the van with Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers

Rachel Kenshalo

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers made a name for themselves in a rather unorthodox fashion. The band achieved much of its notoriety via YouTube videos of the group performing cover songs inside a moving tour van. Dubbed the "Van Sessions," the videos became a viral hit. A cover of Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" has amassed more than 2 million hits since it was posted a year ago.

Though one could argue that the "Van Sessions" are a bit of a shtick, the talent on display is obvious. Sometimes Bluhm drives; sometimes the whole band appears congregated in the last two rows of the van. Each video is recorded with an iPhone, leaving little room for mistakes or post-production. The subtle harmonies are spot-on, and "I Can't Go for That" in particular is a delicate, lo-fi interpretation of a classic.

Those videos were made between tour stops, and Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers are currently on an extensive North American tour, performing nearly every night this spring in a different city. "It's amazing to come back to venues we've played before and see the crowds grow in size, see people singing along," Bluhm said. "People know all the words -- it's a great feeling."

Hailing from San Francisco, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers began in 2008 as just the duo of Bluhm and her husband, Tim. Since then, the band has grown into a six-piece, and in 2011, the band self-released its first album, "Driftwood."

Bluhm has a crisp voice, displayed in a California-style folk. It's a bit of Jenny Lewis mixed with vintage Linda Ronstadt. In January, the band released two digital singles on its website, nickibluhm.com. "Little Too Late" is a guitar-heavy funk single about living a life of no regrets with the message that "it's a little too late to die young." The other single, "Ravenous," is a rocking love song in the style of Patti Smith.

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers plan to release a full-length album in the near future. "We've got it finished and mastered," Bluhm said. "It's just a matter of shopping it around to different labels, seeing if anything feels right. If not, we'll do a self-release."

Two shows in Alaska mark the last stop before a break in the tour, after which the band plans to stick around and take a much-needed vacation. Bluhm said she and the band have wanted to visit since meeting a group of affable Alaskans when they performed aboard Jam Cruise 11, a music-themed cruise through the Bahamas in January.

"There was a whole crew from Alaska on board, and we got to know them pretty well," Bluhm explained. "They were a pretty fired up crowd. We're hoping to see some more of that in Girdwood."


By Rachel Kenshalo
Daily News correspondent