With Biram’s latest release he cements himself as the closest thing we’ve got to Lightnin’ Hopkins. And while Nothin’ But Blood mixes in elements of Mance Lipscomb, Doc Watson, Son House and Bad Brains in with the Hopkins influence, Biram is not a sum of parts. Rather, we see yet again the growth of a substantial songwriter, picker and singer in his own right. He’s someone who has studied the masters closely, absorbed the influences and churned out his own smoke, whiskey and hellfire style. Make no mistake, Scott H. Biram is one of our very best. In this day and age of suit-and-tie mimicry bluesmen, and trustfund-tattooed-wannabe-hellbilly punks, Biram comes as both relief and battle cry.
The opening track “Slow & Easy” sets the tone for the album: sharp picking and fine lyrics sung in a right and ragged tone that opens itself with repeated listenings. Biram works his way through his verses and choruses like a short story writer, like a road dog after midnight working out the last of his ghosts. There is a weariness combined with yearning here that pins the song down, and that shows itself as the major working themes of the album. For all the desolation and hurt and blues——listen to “Jack of Diamonds,” “Never Comin’ Home,” and “I’m Troubled”—-Biram plays these feelings off pure want and desire and the gut-yearning we all feel when we’re out on our own looking back at what was, what is and what should be. The three gospel covers at the end of the album point this out better than anything I could write here. But it’s gospel as Son House or Gary Davis did it: a bit darker, looking inward instead of up.
Whether Biram is covering Howlin’ Wolf (“Back Door Man”) or Doc Watson (“I’m Troubled”) or Mance Lipscomb (“Alcohol Blues”) he’s putting his unique, one-man-band stamp on them all. What is more amazing though than the fresh look he gives these songs is the way his own songs blend seamlessly with the covers. Stripped of distortion, curses, and left to the lyrics alone, the entire album reads like something discovered in the hidden and bent corners of Lomax’s “American Ballads and Folk Songs.” It is to his credit that Biram’s own songs never seem derivative, but rather part of the source themselves.
This is an album where the best recommendation is to just give it to someone and tell them to listen to it. Again and again. Or better yet, put the person you want to hear it in your car or truck and put the smokes and baggie of grass and rolling papers in the glove compartment along with the flask and set out at sunset on a long aimless drive through the oncoming night. Play it loud.