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The Mother Hips

At one time, this reviewer had a considerable prejudice against The Mother Hips, despite never having heard them, thanks to a group of obnoxious Cupertino high school-aged "trustafarians" he once encountered on a Santa Cruz beach, who were eager to show off their glass marijuana paraphernalia and extol The Mother Hips' virtues with eloquent sentences like this one: "Dude, man, you've gotta check out the Hips, man, they're hella dope." But wouldn't you know it, the bloodshot-eyed little wankers were onto something. The Chico quartet makes earthy, good-natured rock 'n' roll that makes you want to head straight for the out-of-doors. Their music is a comfortable collision of '60s British Invasion and '60s and '70s California folk- and country-rock. What could be better? The Hips have displayed a considerable amount of stylistic range over the course of their five-album career, exploring sun-drenched Beach Boys pop, gritty blues rock, out-and-out country, and noodly jam rock (which, unfortunately, got them a reputation as a hippie jam band, perhaps the reason the little Phishheads on the beach sang their praises with such enthusiasm). The San Francisco Chronicle calls their eclectic approach "California Soul," which seems the perfect epithet for the Hips' warm, organic, decidedly West Coast rock.

So why is a quality outfit like the Mother Hips, whose music undeniably stands with great '90s alt-country bands like Wilco and Whiskeytown, a virtual unknown outside California? It's a good question. Despite opening gigs for Wilco and Johnny Cash and a spot on the H.O.R.D.E. tour, big time success has eluded them. It's been a combination of bad luck, bad personal choices, and bad image (refer back to the beginning of this review). But the band remains fabulously talented and continues to make solid music. Their fifth record (and first since their one major label effort, 1997's Later Days) is the excellent Green Hills of Earth (after the Robert Heinlein sci-fi classic). The 2001 album, released on Future Farmer, tends less toward country and more towards classic pop than the band's previous releases, as evidenced by the sweet rocker, "Life in the City."