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Tim Bluhm & Greg Loiacono | Ball-Point Birds (Little Sur Poncen)
For more than a decade Bluhm and Loiacono have been songwriters, singers and guitarists in the San Francisco band The Mother Hips, whose last album, 2001's 'The Green Hills of Earth', was this writer's album of that year. The 'Ball-Point Birds' record eschews the rhythm section and presents the duo in a largely acoustic setting, the swooping electric that interjects the piano-led Princess of Darkness, one of the few hints at the pair's day-job. As with the Hips, Bluhm takes the lead vocal on the majority of tunes, a throaty, soulful croon his forté, on songs of great depth that would enliven any latter day Dylan or Costello offering (and, plainly, wipe the floor with the wealth of young contenders currently diluting the craft). The first of Loicano's quartet of songs, State Fair Letdown, is the most infectious song on the record, a playful jaunt with brushed percussion and a nostalgic, almost whimsical lyric of a lost love, (one Jenny Thompson who reappears in Bluhm's equally upbeat The Way I Feel) The lyric to What Is Love? derives from the answers to 'one of life's most complicated questions' as provided by a group of youngsters and proves to be an affecting, naïve ballad [Fellow SF resident, Chris von Sneidern expanded on this idea last year when assembling an entire album based on schoolgirl poetry]. Further pushing the lyrical envelope, the following The Wall Of Early Morning Light is a modern folk classic, sounding like a lost traditional British ode, sumptuous and timeless. On Loiacono's This Could Be Your Night the voices hit higher registers and harmonise closely with all the warmth of an open fire, whilst Bluhm's Daisy and Joaquin makes a welcome appearance after years being honed in a live setting. A jealous narrator ponders the outcome of a night spent in a Californian cave by the song's protagonists ("Daisy, did you go all the way with Joaquin?"), over a priceless backing of interwoven nylon strung acoustics. The one possible misstep of the set is the seemingly arbitrary inclusion of a live rendition of Later Days (title track from their 1999 album), although it's such a faultless performance you can forgive them this one disruption to the flow of the album. The record closes with the sincere and affecting Thank You Lord, Bluhm's late night meditation on all things treasured, from "magical powers" to "canine companions", "smells from the kitchen" to "unclouded visions." Bluhm and Loiacono may never receive the recognition or praise bestowed upon the lesser talents of the day, but with music such as this they contribute something far more valuable and rewarding. Thank you Tim, thank you Greg. (Ball-Point Birds is available only at www.motherhips.com)

Matt Dornan
December 2002

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