Scott H. Biram – Bad Ingredients (Music Review)
Gravel-voiced “dirty old one-man band” Scott H. Biram has mellowed out noticeably with each new album. Bad Ingredients reverses that trend, with lo-fi blues covering every sound from his early wild rock to his later ballads. In that sense, Bad Ingredients is probably the best introduction a new listener will find to Biram. For someone who is already familiar with him, on the other hand, it is the first one to seem a little underwhelming.
I want to be careful not to dismiss this too quickly, though. Even though he isn’t breaking new ground here, I expect to look back in a year or two and consider many of the songs here to be among his best. But at least now, they seem to be less interesting than I expect from Biram. The one potentially new direction I see is that songs like “Born In Jail” and “I Want My Mojo Back” are more indebted to classic blues than his past DIY efforts. It’s a subtle change, though, and those ones don’t always feel as honest and personal as his best.
Though this is his most rocking album in years, that doesn’t seem to be Biram’s strength any more. Songs like “Killed A Chicken Last Night” recall the chaotic, rambling abandon of The Dirty Old One-Man Band, but without the energy behind it. On the other hand, some great things come out of the career-spanning mix. “Victory Song”, for example, applies that chaotic rambling to a more formally-structured song with great results. If you prefer the assured rock-n-roll attitude of Graveyard Shift, you’ll find that incorporated frequently, and usually with success.
It’s probably misleading for me to imply that Biram is calm or quiet. No matter how much he mellows out, his restless, redneck blues will always be inappropriate for dates and dinner parties. For example, the album’s standout is “Broke Ass”, a song that I would unsarcastically describe as a soulful ballad, beautiful despite his rough blues-man voice. But it’s still a song about a depressed slacker and his “worn out two-dollar whore”. Even for a Bloodshot Records artist, he incorporates a lot of metal into his country/blues format. But unlike many Bloodshot artists, it feels entirely authentic, with no posturing or overreaching.
In fact, Biram is the unappreciated gem of Bloodshot’s catalog. Their performers tend to fall into two categories: Decent cover artists committed to an “alt-country” aesthetic that the rest of the underground country scene has already moved beyond, and truly skilled artists who are just passing through on their way to larger indie labels. Biram is an authentic, unique talent who follows his own muse, but has been overlooked by too many people. If you haven’t heard him before, then like I said, Bad Ingredients makes a great introduction. And if you have, what are you waiting for? Even if it’s not his most original work, it’s still a new Scott H. Biram album.