Scott Biram has always been known for his demented, electrified blues licks and harrowing ballads of the beaten down and bruised. The self-proclaimed “Dirty Old One Man Band” unloads a fury of hellbent skids and aching redemption, and his sixth album and third on the rebel roots imprint Bloodshot exorcises his tortured spirits in moments both brutal and begging. Like 2006’s Graveyard Shift, Biram walks the fine line between belligerence and penitence. That dichotomy is set from the start as Biram trades the CB for the opening answering machine message of “Hospital Escape.” “They’ve got me held prisoner over here,” Biram croaks out in a fevered morphine delusion. “Got me tied down to the bed. I really need your help, I need to get out of here.” The message is lifted from his infamous 2003 hospital stint after being crushed in a head on collision with an 18-wheeler. While Biram has never shied away from the tale, this moment of fear and helplessness so rawly exposed is revealing: Biram knows he’s on borrowed time, but doesn’t seem to know how to deal with that realization, and maybe that’s the purgatory that haunts the dual title Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever.
Just as Graveyard Shift, which was dedicated to Biram’s recently killed friend Steev Smith, opens with the personal howl of “I been out in the graveyard. I watched ‘em put my best friend in the ground,” on “Been Down Too Long,” this snippet from Biram’s hospital recovery casts a pall over the songs that follow. The gospel organ that erupts into bluesy guitar on the second track, “Time Flies,” suggests the tension between ragged life and it’s eventual end, between clinging to the here and keeping one eye skeptically on “the other side.” Likewise, “Sinkin’ Down,” calms the tempo but ups the disillusion in the tired redundancy of existence, brought to the peak on the stellar, organ soaked waltz of “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue.”
Biram’s take on three traditional numbers – Elder Roma Wilson’s “Ain’t It A Shame”; Big Bill Broonzy’s “I Feel So Good”; and Leadbelly’s “Go Down Ol’ Hannah” – clearly trace one line of Biram’s influences, but also best lay out his blues-based aesthetic of fervent joy and downtrodden misery. “Ain’t It A Shame” is a stripped down harmonica and stomp number, while “I Feel So Good” is a given a rockin’, boogie shakedown with help from the Black Diamond Heavies, and “Go Down Ol’ Hannah,” which closes out the album, swamps Biram’s a cappella vocals in grizzled, ancient moans, short but incredibly powerful. The closer’s hearkening of Judgment Day juxtaposes with Biram’s own “Judgment Day,” which bleeds warped samples from a modern day media apocalypse of tv and radio soundbites into a banged out rant of the “big storm comin’.”
While “Hard Time” and “Wishing Well” both rip scorched blues, they’re the kind of unhinged Biram ramblings that are beloved, but common and familiar to the repertoire. Better are the changeups of “Draggin’ Down the Line” and “Wildside.” The former cuts it country teeth with an easy highway roll that could slide in among Nitty Gritty Dirt Band tunes, while the latter delivers a soulful chorus that sounds like it could be a Van Morrison song, but beaten up under a skuzzy guitar as it tries to lure a rehabbed lover back into the good times. And that’s the classic choice that Biram lays out – the gospel of his First Church of Ultimate Fanaticism: Livin’ like hell, but harrowed by heaven.
Mp3 from Something’s Gone/Lost Forever:
Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue