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Tim Bluhm

Sorta Surviving – 2019 (Blue Rose)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by Tim Bluhm

The front man for the Bay Area band Mother Hips, Tim Bluhm, steps aside to deliver an authentic country album recorded at Cash Cabin Studios in Hendersonville, Tenn. Yet, this is not an unexpected path for Bluhm, whose connections to classic country figures like Johnny Cash and, closer to home, Merle Haggard, are quite tangible. Bluhm's covers a tune from each along with 7 of 10 originals, proving that he too can adeptly write classic country songs.

Bluhm discovered Haggard around the same time he co-founded Mother Hips and renders a faithful version of Haggard's "Kern River" as well as alluding to the Dust Bowl in his own "Raining Gravel." Rick Rubin had signed Mother Hips to his American Records around the same time that the first Rick Rubin-produced Johnny Cash album was issued. Bluhm met Cash and opened for him on tour. His impressions of Haggard and especially Cash are lasting as evidenced by his reverent take on Cash's "I Still Miss Someone."

"Where I Parked My Mind" has already appeared in video, a contemporary representation of a night on the town and its consequences. The album opener "Jesus Save a Singer" is just a classic honky-tonker, fit for airplay on stations that still play traditional country. "No Way to Steer" chronicles the mindset of a stubborn troubadour. With those three of the first four songs, it's clear that this is a flat out country album. Closer listening reveals humor, poignant character sketches and a tongue-in-cheek approach, emblematic of country tradition.The other cover is "Del Rio Dan," popularized by the Everly Brothers. There's some bluegrass in "Squeaky Wheel."

Throughout, it's solid country music, played by his band members Jesse Aycock (guitar, vocals) and Jason Crosby (piano, violin, organ) and backed by Nashville session men who are steeped in this music - David Roe (bass) and Gene Chrisman (drums). Guests provide fiddle, pedal steel, guitars and banjos, and Elizabeth Cook and Harry Stinson are among the background vocalists.

Bluhm's simple off-the-cuff stories are set to a sound that's inviting and timeless.