The last three and a half years have been really tough for San Francisco’s Mother Hips. This band has weathered a series of setbacks that, short of the death of a band member (which was way too damn close in this case), would have stressed even the most storied and successful bands out there. When Tim Bluhm descended too quickly from southern California skies and crashed into a woodpile at high speed in a horrible speed flying accident, it was seriously “touch and go” for a while.
Bluhm almost lost his leg and when doctors told him that would be NOT be the case there was a short period of rejoicing among family, band and fans. But then it was discovered that Staph Infection had settled into his leg bone and everything got real again. After aggressive regimens of self-administered antibiotics and multiple surgeries (17 at last count that included an ankle fusion) Tim is finally back. Throughout the ordeal, he went through a divorce, a label signing (both for him and then ultimately The Mother Hips) with Blue Rose Music that initiated a new Hips record entitled Chorus due for a June 8th release.
The first question anyone would ask about attempting to record an album amidst the most difficult set of circumstances this band has ever experienced is, “How the hell did you do that?” The thing here is that Tim Bluhm is a workhorse. Throughout his medical challenges he wrote songs in a hospital bed, he picked guitar as much as he could, and he had nothing but time to think on his challenges (and we all know that adversity tends to be the progenitor of bad-ass music – this is a case in point). And he also had some seriously strong musical brothers in Greg Loiacono and John Hofer. So here we are and here is Chorus.
You can’t help but approach these songs through that lens of adversity and this album drips with autobiographical lyrics that cannot be mistaken for anything other than what they are. The songs are alternatively ruminative and anthemically celebratory. This album takes the listener through all levels of life-challenge and, in the end, a victory of perseverance. Thank God for that! Whether they knew it or not (and they did know it) the Hips needed this record, it was a woodshed opportunity, it was a band-building opportunity, and a chance to focus and create rather than be sidetracked by the shit that can bog life down. But there was another obstacle in the band’s path as they went into the studio to record Chorus.
Bassist Scott Thunes had left the band prior to the accident (and recording sessions) and so here was a Hips with no base (or bass). To fix this problem the band brought in old friend Jackie Greene to hold down the low end on the sessions and play some shows while they sought out a permanent player. Jackie knows the Mother Hips. He is a dear friend to the guys and he knows the vibe. He seamlessly slid in and elevated the recording process to what Greg remembers as some of the most exciting sessions in which he’s yet participated. “When I hear these recordings, I feel good and joyful. There’s a groove happening throughout the record built by all of us and that moves me,” he said. “This was a grounding moment for the band. We had support from a label, we were working with songs that we had already tried in the studio, Tim was out of the woods with his foot and Jackie came in as family.”
The foundation was there but it was augmented further. Jason Crosby joined the band for the sessions and some shows on keyboards too not to mention some added vocalists and a horn section. The result is a record that is a departure, in some ways, from their past catalogue and why shouldn’t it be? If there was ever a need to create a specific document of a particular period in Hips history, this was that time.
Chorus opens with a contemplative, autobiographical Bluhm tune called “Clean Me Up” and while it will no doubt find its way into permanent rotation on many a setlist (it’s a GREAT tune) and fan campfire jams, the next song in line, “Didn’t Pay the Bill,” is a marker. A hard-driving, boogie-woogie jam that literally screams through Bluhm’s vocal exhortations and beautifully reckless horn lines. Drummer John Hofer’s highway driving beat pushes fuzz tone guitars faster and provides a base over which that horn section can soar and screech. This is Bluhm at his fieriest – growls and howls fall in behind saxophone and guitar leads that charge in all directions.
Then there’s “It’ll Be Gone” a tune quirky in its time signatures but true in its tone. It’s Behind/Beyond era Hips doing their thing and letting listeners know that this band isn’t going anywhere but up because, as the lyrics say, “Here comes the dawn, let’s get it on!” Soulful and scruffy but trippy (thank you Jason Crosby for those organ lines) the song builds through verses in a steady ramp-up, this might be the best track of the group. Next, Loiacono steps into lead vocals for “Hit Me There,” a tune that is classic Greg Hips and a perfect example of where his music is right now. This one would have fit in his latest solo release, Songs from A Golden Dream effortlessly.
“Hit Me There” is followed by perhaps the most new-listener accessible Hips tune ever. “It’s Alright” is as poppy as the Hips have ever been and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This song is the victory declaration, the middle finger to all the crap over the last few years. “Went Down Hard” could have been a slow jam if you just looked at the title in the track listing but it’s the opposite of that. There is anger in this one. Pissed off frustration and begrudging acceptance in the aftermath of destruction (yeah, it’s the accident song). And without going over every song it would be a crime to not dedicate a sentence to “High Note Hitters.” THIS is The Mother Hips so many of us love. The dark, loud and moody Mother Hips. With its throaty guitar tones and open high-hat beats, we know that this is the true meat of this record. This is the one that tells listeners new and old that this band still has life and some seriously sharp teeth. Like an old dog that goes down only to regroup and rally for some of the best years yet to live, this one hits the high gear and is creatively fascinating. The chorus is something that defies explanation, so you can figure it out for yourself. We move from that brooding opening to something wild in the chorus that explodes into victorious Loiacono leads that fucking slay. Look, this band took a slap, a hard one, but dammit if they’re going to let that define them. You can hear it in Bluhm’s screams. This is every bit as solid a song as has been put out by these guys in years.
And that’s where we’ll leave it. Those of us in the know can rejoice in the fact that we still live in a world that boasts The Mother Hips – one of the finest rock n’ roll bands to have ever taken a stage or sealed themselves in a recording studio. Get this record and turn someone onto these guys. You’ll more than do them a favor. The Mother Hips have consistently delivered their fans some of the finest memories and company in music. Yup, there is truly nothing like The Mother Hips and they gave us a document of a time that we’ve all collectively made it through – together. Thanks, fellas.
Photos and video courtesy of Jay Blakesberg