When you hear the phrase ‘One Man Band’, most people picture a lanky, genial chap with a bass drum his on back, cymbals on his knees, and a fondness for yelling ‘Mayree Pawpins!’ in an allegedly cockney accent. Scott H. Biram, a one man band of his own kind, is the type that’d smash Bert over the head with a bottle of Bourbon and lick up the spillage.
The Texan native, also known as The Dirty Old One Man Band, uses his considerable multi-instrumental talents and his love affair with gritty blues to make the music that every roadside dive bar runs on.
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His latest release, ‘The Bad Testament’, might be his most ambitious yet. And aptly named, as the words ‘sin’ or ‘sinner’ occur at least once every verse. With more instrumentation than ever before, especially percussion, Biram delivers a multi-style speedster that’s ten shades of rabble-rousing and meaner than a junkyard dog. Things start off in style with the chugging ‘Set Me Free’, where we’re first introduced to Biram’s brass-knuckles-on-the-fretboard guitar sound. The opener bops along like the bastard son of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, and if the album is an outlaw’s pilgrimage then this is his boxcar ride into town. After that it’s an open road of rusty-razor blues, punctuated by Songs For The Deaf-style radio interludes.
The genius beneath the grit is Biram’s mastery of production, especially the way he records the vocals. The mic-sound is crisp on the more country soulful ‘Crippled & Crazy’ or ‘Red Wine’, letting Biram’s creaky-floorboards voice work its magic. Yet the mic is hyper-sensitive for the acoustic ballad ‘Righteous Ways’ to pick up every Cash-like waver in the vocals. Whilst it’s so unbalanced and basic on the retro ‘Swift Driftin’ that, if it wasn’t for the off-kilter lyrics (‘It takes a real piece of shit to be a real piece of shit’), the track could pass for a 1920’s delta blues field recording. It’s surprisingly the subtlety Biram is capable of given his rough-and-ready reputation, but capable he surely is.
The gems in the record, naturally, are the oddballs. The gritty-gospel acapella ‘True Religion’ might be the album highlight, a multi-vocal spiritual that echoes Tom Waits’ ‘Mule Variations’. The album gets progressively more chaotic after the halfway point, and concludes in grand fashion with the cacophonous glory that is ‘What Doesn’t Kill You…’. A guitar and harmonica battle that gets out of hand and collapses into a beautiful bluesy trainwreck.
‘The Bad Testament’ does exactly what’s written on the tin. It’s a sunburned, weathered and whiskey-fuelled release that gives us the Scott H. Biram we know with a little more junk in the trunk. The extra instrumentation just serves to make the sound rawer, and even at its busiest it’s still stripped back as a skinned rattlesnake. Best suited as the soundtrack to desert road trips, backwater shenanigans and running bootleg liquor down to Texarkana.