scott h biram

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Ah, my favorite genre, the mishmash that is folk/alt-country/alt-folk/americana, whatever you want to call it. Whatever the moniker you choose, it’s the heartsbloody, dirty-handed songs of the people, and excluding blues & blues rock, there isn’t anything better to listen to. Lately there’s been a slew of good stuff coming down the pike like the train rolling past Folsom Prison. Let’s take a listen, shall we? *beep* [advance filmstrip]

01. The Felice Brothers — Yonder Is the Clock

Though the album is (on the whole) rather lugubrious, all the Felice Brothers elements are there — death, brawling, the mob, you know, stuff like that. I’m not a person that throws around the word “authentic,” thanks to a lot of theory training, but the Felice Brothers strike me as a deeply human band. Entry track is “Run Chicken Run,” a romping singalong about how chickens don’t get no life after death. (Unless you read that one Shalom Auslander story.)

The Felice Brothers — Site | Myspace | Label (Team Love)

The Felice Brothers — Run Chicken Run

The Felice Brothers — Boy From Lawrence County

02. Justin Townes Earle — Midnight At the Movies

I have not heard the entire JTE album yet, but I love the juxtaposition between the two songs I do have. “Midnight At the Movies” is kind of this micro-study of humanity, this guy who’s reaching out for anything but who mostly ends up with his flicks. And then “Mama’s Eyes” is this really warm, human introspection about parents and where a person gets his physical and mental traits. I love them both! And probably whatever else happens to be on an album between them.

Justin Townes Earle — Myspace | Label (Bloodshot)

JTE — Midnight At the Movies (sxsw showcase version)
JTE — Mama’s Eyes

03. Scott H Biram — Something’s Wrong / Lost Forever

This one I haven’t heard either, but I’m a Biram fan and from the two tracks that Bloodshot released, I’m thinking it is standard Biram fare, all hellfire and brimstone. Woot! Smells like sulfur up in here.

Scott H Biram — Site | Myspace | Label (Bloodshot)

Scott H Biram — Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue
Scott H Biram — Judgment Day

04. Roadside Graves — My Son’s Home

Straddling the pointy pointy fence between alt-country and folk, these guys come from New Jersey, of all places. But there is no Bon Jovi in these stark, deceptively simple songs. The harmony is a little shaky in “Far and Wide,” but that’s practically a bonus. The album is not out yet, but enjoy these previews.

Roadside Graves — Site | Myspace | Label (Autumn Tone)

Roadside Graves — Far and Wide
Roadside Graves — Ruby

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20-16

I’m going to change the blog’s focus for a little while. Partly to avoid Good Hodgkins syndrome and partly because if something is the best of 2006, it deserves a little more time than three paragraphs, and partly because I’m a writer, and I need to write about different stuff sometimes. So instead of having a wide, enormous focus like I’ve had since June (and will have again), I’m going to focus the rest of the year on the … best of the year. Hopefully it will turn out all right.

I literally spent weeks agonizing over my best of 2006 list. Is this normal? Doubtful. But I hate making lists; that is, I prefer to look at other peoples’ lists and yell, “What? Where’s so-and-so! Loser!” So now you get to yell at my list. I got my top three all right; then I had to keep going, and rearranging, and relistening … well. I actually have a top 20 now. So today we’re going to look at numbers twenty through sixteen in my list. You can click on the album for a buy link, and there will be a sample mp3 in the blue square. Keep in mind, I firmly believe that you could not go amiss buying these albums (or at least picking through them on iTunes if you’re not an album buyer).



20.
Scott H. Biram
Graveyard Shift
Bloodshot Records
Long Fingernail

In spite of some of the skeevier elements of this album, the rest of it remains impossible not to listen to. Biram’s growly lyrics conjure up those old religious days of hellfire and brimstone, when Jesus was a narrow-eyed disciplinarian, leaning over you to make sure you did your lessons right. If you did — salvation! If not, well … Biram’s there to console you.

The strongest songs on the album are at the beginning and end of the album: the middle descends into good-old-boyness and songs about trucks; too country for me. But everything starts off with a bang: “Been Down Too Long” is a great opener, with a perfect summary of Biram’s aesthetic: Well, all I want in this creation / is a good-lovin’ woman and a long vacation. “Only Jesus” is the impetus for the paragraph above, and “Long Fingernail” brings up the Devil to torment a man with a broken heart. All in all, if you ever need someone to scream with you someday, there is no one better than Biram.



19.
Nouvelle Vague
Bande A Part
The Perfect Kiss Records
Sweet & Tender Hooligan (live)

All I ever hear about this album is how it’s not as good as the first one. Lucky me, then — I never heard the first one. Also, I’m so fond of this idea that they can put out five more albums and I’ll buy into them all. How is it that a French band gets the idea to take “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and add bossa nova to it, and then sing it so sweetly that it’s even creepier than the original? With bells and running footsteps and that heartbeat of a bass? How did that happen? It’s not a fluke, people; it’s artistry.

The strength of the covers are also the band’s weakness — if you don’t like the songs they picked, you’re not going to like the cover either. For instance, I can’t stand “Pride (In the name of love)” so a cover is so uninteresting. But if you do like the songs, the covers aren’t just given minimal makeover. “Heart of Glass” is stripped of that annoying original voice (heh! sacrilege!) and made danceable; “Human Fly” becomes punk bossa nova. Sure, maybe this is the “same old schtick” as the first album, but who else is doing this, and doing it so well? Come on now.



18.
A Hawk and A Hacksaw
The Way the Wind Blows
The Leaf Label
Song for Joseph

In this paragraph will be my only mention of “Gulag Orkestar.” I was a big fan of it, and then I got hold of “The Way the Wind Blows.” And I realized two things — the two albums are inextricable, but since I could only pick one, “The Way” is better. When you put them side-by-side (and I did — I told you I agonized about this list), Condon sounds like an insipid shadow of Fanfare Ciocarlia. His album is put together better, in that faux-concert format, but musically, A Hawk has him beat hands-down.

Which doesn’t really work anyway, because Condon plays trumpet on “The Way,” so like I said, inextricable. This is a great album, period. It has a joyful, festival feel to it, and it’s obviously a labor of love by expert musicians. My only complaint is that it sometimes makes you feel like you’re in a restaurant and some dude is playing accordion over in the corner and it just … goes on … forever. I often have to listen to the album in two sittings because I guess there’s only so much Balkan orchestra a girl can stand.




17.
Ray LaMontagne
Till the Sun Turns Black
RCA Records
Three More Days

Ray LaMontagne’s best asset is his genuinely soulful sound. Everything he sings sounds like he’s cutting out a little chunk of his heart and handing it to you. Even in the “guy-with-guitar” genre, which is super-soulful, LaMontagne manages to ratchet it up a bit. He’s got a great backing band, with piano and violin just a perfect complement. Everything works together very well.

What keeps him out of the top ten is that all the songs are really really really similar. They tend to run into one another until it’s all one big long song — a format I’m not fond of. Even “Thick As A Brick” changed up its style once in awhile. And there’s almost nothing left of the desperate howling that charged up “Trouble” or “Burn.” It’s like he’s playing a whole album underwater. Nevertheless, tracks like “Empty” or “Three More Days,” even played underwater, still blow away the competition.



16.
Vienna Teng
Dreaming Through the Noise
Zoe Records
Blue Caravan

I have such a soft spot for Teng. She’s young and sometimes silly, and I don’t even know if she counts as indie, but she’s such a great songwriter and singer and piano player. She’s beautiful and talented and if you don’t like her, you’re just a sad sad person. “Dreaming” is an excellent release. I’ve also heard the this-is-not-as-good-as- [insert-album-name-here] criticism from devoted listeners, but I can’t understand why.

It’s the same type of material she’s released before — “1 bd/1 ba” is about finding an apartment and “I Don’t Feel So Well” is apparently about grammar. Everything is semi-autobiographical, and as listeners followed Teng through her early twenties, now they can follow her into the stretching period that goes with growing up. Teng thinks, probably harder than any of us did, about turning 40, about having children, about hurricanes and gay marriage and how much to give to your spouse without losing yourself. Standout tracks: “City Hall,” “Whatever You Want,” “Recessional.”

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Imagine that you’re driving across a back country road, flipping the channels on your radio. At first you can’t get anything, and then you start hearing the growly, staticky voice of a preacher, coming through some ghost receiever. But this isn’t any know it all, morality-talking, money-loving good old boy. This is a blues preacher, and his gospel is the foot-stomping, guitar banging, low-fi truth that burrows into your soul and pulls an amen out of you.

Scott Biram’s music is not what I thought it’d be, not at all. His bio reads like a redneck anthology, and his blurb at Bloodshot records is complimentary, but also kind of scary — they call his music “psychobilly gospel.” His 2005 record is called “Dirty Old One Man Band,” for crying out loud. And I’ll give him two out of three, but since I’m 30 and he’s 29 — at least he isn’t old.

He’s not the kind of guy you take home to Momma, but he knows his blues. He’s the kind of guy that you go to when you’ve got trouble, because he knows your trouble, and he can top your troubles with his own. He’s a bluesman, and if you can listen and not like his racketing, raging, rocking gospel, well, maybe you don’t have a soul to save.

Scott’s new album, “Graveyard Shift,” was released yesterday. It’s also available on iTunes (all the tracks are labeled “explicit,” but I didn’t find anything particularly explicit about the ones below).

Scott H. Biram: Site | Myspace | Label (Bloodshot)

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you'd like a copy.]
Scott H. Biram – Been Down Too Long
Scott H. Biram – No Way
Scott H. Biram – Only Jesus

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