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[whitespace] Greg Loiacono and Tim Bluhm
Some Nerve: Greg Loiacono and Tim Bluhm make a new pair out of Mother Hips.

Mother's Child

An acoustic-duo offshoot of cult-favorite club rockers Mother Hips sings songs of musical soul mates

By B. Gleason

AS 1997 DAWNED, when Mother Hips frontmen Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono accepted an acoustic opening slot for late Band legend Rick Danko, there was palpable pressure in the air around them. The previous fall, the Hips had released the band's third album, Shootout, for American Recordings, only to find the expected label support faltering until the band fell victim to "downsizing." Although the Hips still boasted steady gigs and a wealth of choice material, album sales barely rippled past a cult audience, and a growing burnout in the band came to the fore.

Fortunate, then, that the acoustic performance met with enthusiastic response.

"It went over really well," Loiacono remembers. "We played well in a time when we weren't sure if we could have fun playing music anymore."

Luck and determination followed, and the singers soon regained their poise and inspiration. The rejuvenated Mother Hips experience has grown to encompass a tour by the full band and the occasional acoustic-duo appearance, as well as other self-described "loose ideas and options" (including Bluhm's solo debut, Land and Sea Chanteys, which appeared last year, and a forthcoming new Hips album). The duo will display its acoustic side Thursday (Oct. 12) at Kuumbwa Jazz Center.

"We love the subtleties of these performances. And the precision with harmonies. And the dynamics," Bluhm says. He and Loiacono have played together for a decade, after meeting in the CSU-Chico dormitories.

Bluhm is affable and well read, stands well over 6 feet and is given to a post-surfing glow in recent years. He is also an articulate lyricist, both plaintive and whimsical: "Please forgive me beforehand for all that I do/and may adulthood come gracefully slower than seasons to you" (from "Thank You, Tiara Deavers"); "Flowers only come around when something goes down/and in hours they decay" (from "Shootout").

Newlywed Loiacono is also modestly spoken, considering the expressive leads passing through his fingers.

"We've always played acoustic backstage before going onstage [with Mother Hips], and usually afterward," he says. "You know, passing the guitar around." Most of the group's songs spring from acoustic origins.

The acoustic sets tend toward the mellow but certainly don't lack vital signs. The same amazing harmonies intersect between Bluhm's sandpaper croon and Loiacono's high, clean counterpoint. Hips numbers like the fluid "Sarah Bellum," "Later Days" and "Collected Some Nerve" stand alongside covers ranging from "Sing Me Back Home" to "Whiskey River." But their catalog of non-Hips acoustic originals, such as "Countrywide," "Daisy & Joaquin" and "Danielle's Hands," dominates the sets.

"We have hoped that [the acoustic format] gives us more integrity as songwriters, outside of the rock & roll community," says Bluhm. "It definitely calls attention to the craft of a song. That can get obscured when you're playing through amplifiers, in barrooms. It is more difficult to capture people's attention with acoustic guitars. It's also a different set of tunes. Personal presence becomes a factor."

Various stolen moments from acoustic-duo gigs will likely manifest in an eventual live album ("We could probably go into a studio and do them with more polish," says Bluhm, "but it's just as well to keep it true to form, live."). The Tim Bluhm Band, a friendly side project often featuring guitarist Nate Pendery, performs Bluhm's solo material and other tunes.

"Tim has enough songs for a good four more albums by himself," says Loiacano, who is plotting his own solo bow. Spearheading their schedule as usual will be the Mother Hips, as they collectively race to complete the new album (the band's fifth). And there is the ever-present call of touring that brings the two troubadours into action, either in a pair or with the other Hips.

"We're just taking what we've always done, and taking it to the stage," says Bluhm. "We are each other's soul mates, musically. I am truly fortunate to have met Greg, and to have this music. It's a pretty rare thing."

Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono play Thursday (Oct. 12) at 9pm at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10. (421.9200)

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From the October 11-18, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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