After her debut “Holy Smoke” swept the New Zealand Music Awards in 2010, R&B-fueled Kiwi rocker Gin Wigmore was besieged by questions.
“Over and over, it was, ‘What are you going to do next? What kind of record will you make? It’s your second album — aren’t you freaking out?’” says the blond spitfire, who finally told everyone that she would track a blues album, even though she knew little about the genre.
She arrived at a perfect method of familiarizing herself with it, and her plan worked.
The new CD, “Gravel & Wine,” — from which she’ll play next week in The City — crackles with old-school soul. It’s a multiplatinum smash back home, thanks to cuts such as “Black Sheep” (also in a Guinness Black Lager campaign) and the single “Man Like That” (which she sang in a James Bond-themed Heineken commercial alongside Daniel Craig).
Produced by Butch Walker, the album is so Stax-Volt retro it rivals, even surpasses, the late Amy Winehouse’s similarly toned “Back to Black,” priming Wigmore for superstardom in the U.S.
She owes it all to a two-month trip she took alone through the American South.
What better way to learn the blues than to visit its birthplace, thought the singer, who jetted into Austin, Texas, for three days of songwriting with Charlie Sexton before renting a car in Memphis, Tenn., for a leisurely drive down the fabled Mississippi Blues Trail.
“I just cruised around by myself, got into all kinds of mischief, and wound up writing with some amazing people,” she says. She marveled at Sun Studios, snapped up a vintage Stella guitar in Clarksdale, and went drinking, then composing, with soul legend William Bell in Atlanta.
“And I went to Al Green’s church in Memphis, which was phenomenal,” she adds. “I was a bit scared, going to church, because I’d never been, apart from Christmas Eve with my mom when I was 8. But then to hear Al Green taking the service and just busting out? I was like, ‘My God! Now that’s a soul voice!’ I even took communion from him!”
Wigmore’s sternest blues lesson came in a late-night juke-joint conversation with an elderly regular, who inquired why she was there.
“Like a Kiwi dork, I said, ‘I’m here to write a blues record!’” she says. “And he said, ‘Darlin’, if you got yourself from New Zealand to Clarksdale, you ain’t never gonna get the blues.’ And he was right — I really don’t have that much to whine about!”