Tim Bluhm is one of the greatest songwriters walking this lovely blue globe today. Could sugarcoat that some, but what’s the point? Better that we get right to it.

With a quiver full of literally hundreds of top-notch tunes, Bluhm has been working the highways and honkytonks for more than a dozen years. As one of the leaders of the woefully underrated Mother Hips, he recorded five records rich in California classic pop-rock stylings. The band’s last two albums, Later Days and Green Hills of Earth, rank amongst the best work to emerge in the past ten years. The problem was and remains that popular tastes have left behind their brand of lyrically and harmonically dense tunesmithing. Their concerts are never less than stirring and often slaphappy grand. A kind of bred-in-the-bone integrity permeates everything they do. Put another way, the Mother Hips were far too good to crack the mainstream.

A recent decision to put the band on an indefinite hiatus finds Bluhm out on his own. Being one of those blessed souls who have music rising up in them like some slow geyser, he continues on. His first solo album since the split, The Soft Adventure/Colts, is a corker, all gray eyes and sad sighs strolling with whispering acoustic guitars and honey sweet vocals. Combining a newer EP with a previously unreleased record, it possesses a tremendous understanding of day-to-day disappointment. Perversely, this rough blown set has that rare, strange power to leach sadness from the listener. It is the gift of a longhaired, Pacific Ocean shaman.

On the EP there’s a line that jumps out at you: "This beauty and strangeness struck him as the only solution." It points to the peculiar nature of being a musician. It’s easy to assume this is autobiographical given all the days he’s spent humping it, but it might just as easily be a character. Bluhm tells us, "Any character will have elements of the writer. The song is about a change in perspective and in priorities upon getting a little older. We adapt to survive the conditions we find ourselves in. Our expectations come to reflect our reality or else we become disillusioned. It is a sobering thing to learn."

Colts rivals Neil Young’s On The Beach for soft bleakness. About it Bluhm offers only this: "The record is perhaps the sweetest thing to come from a somewhat bitter period. It says all there is to say about it."

There’s a strong sense of place in his songs, people in contact with the world in such a way that nature enters into human relationships. In particular, one catches a heavy California vibe.

"People in this day and age are disconnected from the natural world around them," Bluhm says. "Our collective work ethic and our reliance on technology and the pervasiveness of mass media are all causes of this. For most of us, our connection with nature has diminished as we have gotten older and is limited to spending one or two restless nights a year trying to sleep on the ground in some crowded camping area. I try to stay outdoors as much as I can. I believe it is the antidote for the sickness that results from living in our insane world. It makes me feel more alive."

Tim with the Mother Hips
The Fillmore SF | June 2, 2003
photo by N.D. Koster
He gets a lot of opportunities, since he has lived out of a van for many years. Bluhm says, "I think it would be a bummer for most people. But for me, and a lot of other folks who do something similar, it is so desirable. When the sense of home isn't restricted to a specific location, that sense expands to the range of your rambling. Most birds are constantly traveling, migrating between the limits of their range."

After spending so many years with one band, it’s easy to believe that things have changed for him. "There were expectations for the way the Mother Hips' music should have sounded. Limitations, maybe even self-imposed. Now I am free to do whatever I can dream up. It is truly starting over."

One thing hasn’t changed and that’s his steady touring schedule that has him doing 20 shows in August alone when he hits the road with his new backing combo, 5 Foot Tuesday. “Performance is the most immediate element in art," he states. "It happens in actual time. It's here and then it's gone. It is actual humans interacting. There is risk, there is humility, there is reward. But mainly it pays the bills."

Bluhm has a special knack for choosing perfect cover tunes. The way he manages to respect the original pieces and make the words sound new with his smoky voice never fails to enliven even familiar material.

Tim with the Mother Hips
The Fillmore SF | June 2, 2003
photo by N.D. Koster
"When I first started playing music in Chico, I was determined to play only music that I had written. There were a bunch of really successful 'cover' bands in that town at that time. I thought it was odd that people would rather hear local musicians play half-assed versions of radio songs than hear them have a crack at their own songs. So I set out to change that. It took me a few years to understand the value of learning the songs of the best songwriters out there. I love finding a great song tucked away on some old record and learning it, and then playing it to some people who have never heard it before. And when you say it was written by '____,' they can't believe it."

He’s currently laying down new material, rehearsing his band and refining the recordings of the Hips last shows in San Francisco for eventual release as both a film and concert album. The new songs keep on coming and thankfully for those unlucky in love (and other related fields) there’s Bluhm to give us lullabies for our weary heads.

"I think it is simply more interesting to me to examine the irony of relationships than to celebrate the happy moments," he says. "Plenty of people have done that so well already."

Dennis Cook
JamBase | West Coast
Go See Live Music!

Find rants, writing, ramblings and an archive of music articles at denniscook.com.


[Published on: 7/28/03]

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