Time for a seminal lesson in not judging a book by its cover. Bhi Bhiman may look like a mild mannered Asian businessman, but appearances can be deceptive. His debut album, Bhiman, is heavily rooted in blues and various flavours of American Roots Music. With cutting lyrics and a commanding, unique voice, Bhiman soars from the speakers like a cross between Hank Williams, Mississippi John Hurt and Antony Hegarty.
The opening, Guttersnipe is a sure-fire attention grabber. With Bhiman’s powerful yet plaintive vocals, a gently rocking bass and his own, 21st century King Of The Road, the album is off to memorable start.
Bhiman’s gift for wordplay is clear throughout the album, whether it’s when taking a careful swipe at corporate greed and bad business practices in the darkly sinister The Cookbook ; or satirizing the racial stereotypes of early cartoons in Atlatl; his lyrical sword has a keen but jagged edge. The historical and political references that pepper his songs, however, don’t shout out at you. One aspect of Bhiman’s gift with song writing is that the jibes will catch your attention if you’re open to them; but if you’d rather simply let his rich, bluesy voice and old time style wash over you, you’re free to do just that.
Bhiman’s influences reach further than politics, though. Kimchee Line gives us a view of the world through the eyes of a Korean farm worker and in Take What I’m Given Bhi craves a bucolic retreat from the modern world. Sam Kassirer’s vibes and his own bass harmonies add depth and soul to the arrangement, resulting in a finely crafted and highly appealing song.
There’s too many egos in fast moving cars / Thinking that their lives are better than ours
The only instrumental track on the album, Mexican Wine is a short and unexpected joy. With such a unique voice and accomplished song-writing to impress us, it feels all the more refreshing.
Love is presented in both comical and cutting guises. The upbeat guitar and hand clapping in Time Heals belies a sad tale of lost love, while Eye On You deals more directly with love, deception and betrayal in a song where the album’s less obvious soul influences shine through and Bhi comes across more like Richie Havens than the obvious Woody Guthrie comparison. There’s even a classic murder ballad hidden in the pleading country sound of Crime Of Passion.
It’s a mix of Blues, bile and black humour; toe-tapping, tension and commanding tenor vocals. The combination of Bhi Bhiman’s strong gift with words, multi-instrumental talents and unique voice, along with Sam Kassirer’s richly textured production have resulted in an album that beguiles and charms the listener. Bhiman just doesn’t look like he sounds, simple as that, which makes the album even more of an unexpected delight. The cover may confuse, but from the very first bars of Bhiman, the listener should be in no doubt that this is a very special debut.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Bhiman is released on Boocoo Music and is available from our store