"one of the finest singer-songwriter affairs
to ever come down the pike."
(An Honest Tune)
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Personnel: Tim Bluhm (vocals, guitar, all instruments)
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Our thanks to National Public Radio's California Report for a thoughtful interview with Tim.
DEBUT SOLO ACOUSTIC ALBUM FROM MOTHER HIPS FRONT MAN‘‘ For five years, singer Tim Bluhm (having played upward of 2000 concerts) lived in a '95 Chevy Sportsvan. Far from the camera-clicking life of a rock star, he drifted up and down the Golden State, skiing off of Mount Shasta, free-soloing Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne Meadows, telemark-traversing the Sierras, and surfing the cold Northern California coast. He wandered for days deep in the Grand Canyon and spent months chasing waves in Hawaii, Costa Rica, Fiji, and New Zealand. He broke a 14-year touring streak and worked as a climbing guide in Yosemite.
As frontman for the band Mother Hips, Bluhm (rhymes with room) pitched his tent on a plot of California's imagination and has been singing into the roar of the bulldozers ever since. But with a bittersweet yearning for the days of banditos and gold miners, and with a kinship with California's long-gone official state animal, this self-proclaimed "time-sick son of a grizzly bear" has sometimes gone unheard. Despite its fanatical West Coast following, the Mother Hips has never had a hit single, made a video, or got their picture in Rolling Stone.
So with Mother Hips on intermittent hiatus, Bluhm might well have followed the vagabond footsteps of Everett Ruess and disappeared for good into the wilderness. Instead, the year brought overdue recognition. In February, lines formed around the block in San Francisco for the premiere of Stories We Could Tell, a feature-length documentary about the band. And this month, Bluhm releases the most stripped-down (and pure) recordings of his career. Backed only by his guitar, Bluhm recorded "California Way" in two days.
Producer Dan Prothero happened upon the session knowing little about Bluhm, and by day's end had decided to release the disc on his own Fog City Records, won over by the haunting collection of songs that he calls a "love-letter from and about a disappearing place."
As for the prospects of getting rich in the music business and ending his itinerant ways, Bluhm is skeptical. When I reached him by cell phone he was on some highway in the Sierras, and he stopped on the shoulder to get better reception. He told me that if he had hit the jackpot ten years ago he "probably would have just spent it all." And if there's a payoff in the future? "I'd buy a better van," Bluhm predicted. "Or at least get my brakes fixed."
- Mark Sundeen, Outside Magazine
"The spare acoustic recording is witness to the fact that Tim Bluhm is one of the best (and most underrated) songwriters of his generation." — John Baccigaluppi, TapeOp Magazine
"The roving progeny of Gram Parsons, George Jones, Gordon Lightfoot, and maybe even Townes Van Zandt, Bluhm is getting better with age, experience, and shoe leather. A strong candidate for singing poet laureate." — San Francisco Bay Guardian
"A marvel of exquisite ache that rivals the peeking-into-someone's soul intimacy of Joni Mitchell's Blue. His winsome voice is set against wood, the pleasant slur of fingers on coiled strings and the air of a good room. When a piano enters for a few bars or his voice twins with itself in reflective harmony, it matters. Using accents so sparingly lets the extraordinary songs rise without distraction. This is all about the space between things - what we say and what we do, the wished for and the realized, the living and the dead. In the midst of so much painful honesty resides a quiet understanding that we will survive even when the tremors shake all our mason jars from the shelf. A far cry from his work in the Mother Hips, it's also one of the finest singer-songwriter affairs to ever come down the pike." — An Honest Tune
"With picturesque lyrics, unadorned vocals and simple, tasteful guitar playing, Bluhm captures the sun-drenched storytelling spirit of earlier troubadours. Bluhm's songs, while spare in instrumentation, make for a rich listen. Best of all, they ring true." — Performing Songwriter
"Tim Bluhm lays the bohemian way on wax with his solo debut. This sonic testament of inner psychology and notebook sketches serve as a great introduction to the journal of his life." — Relix Magazine
"Tim Bluhm forces you to look at things from a different angle even when he's not playing because the guy is so damn tall. He really personifies the West Coast with his sun bleached bowl cut, surfer's tan and pearly white teeth. I remember I used to go see his old band play with this girl I was dating who would flock front and center stage with all the other girls who wanted to gaze longingly into his baby blues. Then when we'd go home and 'do it' and she would close her eyes more than usual, I'd be like, 'Fine! I'm gonna close my eyes and think about your hot friend in law school.'
So I recently got to open for Tim at the newly revamped Hotel Utah and it was so rad. He has this warm, familiar voice that sounds like he grew up listening to Neil Young and Colin Blunstone from the Zombies, but he doesn't really rehash that kind of style like some of his followers who think they're John Martyn and Fred Neil. And his songwriting just seems to come from places that you can't find on a map or in MOJO Magazine. And then he's got these other songs where he seems to channel the spirit of other people. Have any of you songwriters out there felt like there are these "up for grabs" songs floating around in the air and sometimes they just pass right through you and you have to catch them and bring them out into some kind of tangible form? Tim's the master of those kind of magic songs. Like he's got this song called Tiny Blue Coffin about this guy in Montana whose daughter died and all he can say is, "Place her in a tiny blue coffin" and, Jesus Christ, that song just ruins me with Tim's soft tremolo vocals and his finesse in guitar playing. He also has these Americana inspired songs, but he doesn't put on a fake cowboy accent and use words and phrases like "I reckon" or "y'all" and he almost always puts a "G" at the end of words with "ing." Someday I wanna patch up my pintail gun and go surfing with Tim. I'll bet he just kills it."
— Eric Shea, Zero Magazine
"an intriguing and fascinating snapshot of one of the best singer/songwriters around. California Way is chock full of thoughtful intelligent tunes that sound better with every spin. " — LMNOP