California rock band The Mother Hips have been through the ups and downs of the music biz. The band started as four college students in the early ‘90s, releasing their debut album Back To The Grotto on American Recordings in 1993.
The band’s 2009 album, Pacific Dust, was, not surprisingly, an opus about an aging rock band, looking back at what could have been.
“Is that what the world is saying that your rock and roll band can’t last if you don’t have a really good singer?,” the Hips’ frontman, Tim Bluhm, wondered on Pacific Dust’s opening track, “White Falcon Fuzz,” perhaps referring to the success of his wife, Nicki Bluhm, and her band, The Gramblers. (Tim Bluhm is a sometimes member of The Gramblers and has released a duets album with his wife.)
“The company quit, they didn’t do shit for my new record,” Bluhm snarls over the raunchy rock and roll riff of “Third Floor Story,” while on the CSN-style harmonies of “All In Favor,” the band makes a pact to stay together forever.
But on their eighth studio album, Behind Beyond, The Mother Hips seem more at peace with their place in the world. “Freed From a Prison” is about opening oneself up to possibilities that have always been there, which Bluhm says is a theme of the album.
Bluhm is a narrative songwriter, and the songs on Behind Beyond unravel little mysteries of life. “Toughie” is a Grateful Dead boogie a la “Truckin’,” which chronicles his life, since leaving home at age 16. The album’s title track, a wispy, lingering ballad, explores cosmic connections, ultimately confirming, “I’m alive.”
The record’s closing track, “Song for J.B.,” written for the late former Wilco guitarist Jay Bennett, touches on Gram Parsons’—the patron saint of California country-soul—similar gospel eulogy, “In My Hour of Darkness.” Bluhm finds gently beautiful lines like, “I hope there’s music where you are.”
Twenty years in, The Mother Hips certainly have their own grizzled tale to tell. Behind Beyond finds the band in very fine form.