There’s nothing like going to the source of your inspiration to really understand its intricacies. Californian Tim Bluhm, of The Mother Hips, did just that when he decided to do a country music album. Sorta Surviving was recorded at Johnny Cash’s cabin-cum-studio, and features A-list players like Jesse Aycock on guitar and Elizabeth Cook on background vocals. The result is a record a lot of people in Nashville just wish they could do.
Bluhm tackles legacies head on with a beautiful rendition of Cash’s I Still Miss Someone. He practically out-Haggard’s Merle himself with a cover of Kern River. Raining Gravel, a ballad about the Dustbowl and the circumstances that drove the Okies west, is a Bluhm original. If someone told you it had been written by Woody Guthrie, though, you wouldn’t doubt it for a second. Bluhm went to the lower part of his vocal range for Jimmy West, a honky-tonk tale of the boy who beat up the bully that has a Dave Alvin feel to it.
The best songs on the album are when Tim applies his talent to some of his original country ballads. No Way To Steer is an tale about being headstrong. Squeaky Wheel, the most uptempo song on the record, lies in a similar vein as Bluhm sings “this squeaky wheel does not want any grease.” Jesus Save A Singer is a crooner number where he wonders, “can a bad man be saved by singing a good song.” I think my favorite is a George Jones style country shuffle about drinking that pushes you to two-step across the floor entitled Where I Parked My Mind.
I suppose it should come as no surprise that Bluhm has the musical range to do a country album well. Besides being lead singer of The Mother Hips he was instrumental in the success of ex-wife Nicki Bluhm. He’s played with Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann from the Grateful Dead, and started a recording studio with Jackie Greene. If you’re hoping to hear something like one of those projects, though, this isn’t the record you’re looking for. But if you want to hear some great country music, check out Sorta Surviving.