The first time I heard Bhi Bhiman was almost exactly ten months ago at South By Southwest. I was there covering the fest for another website, and one of the highlights was that we were going to get to see Josh Ritter play a solo set at St. David’s Historical Sanctuary. The rest of the lineup, at the time, I could care less about. Bhiman, The Carpenter Sisters, and Ron Sexsmith were all a distant thought with Ritter approaching. Bhi destroyed that line of thinking by delivering a great set of songs.
The thing about Bhi is, he has such a mastery of songwriting that he can pull an audience in with a couple simple lines and keep their attention with his quick wit or poignant delivery. His songs often have a great humor to them, but he can also give you biting social commentary or a sweet love song. When I returned from SxSw I was so excited to get people on the Bhiman train. I went out with a friend and I was talking about the festival, and when I got to the part I was excited for, my friend says “Oh yeah. I think he’s working with Sam Kassirer on his new record.” Apparently the train had already left the depot, and I was standing on the platform with a white handkerchief waving goodbye.
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that back in October we had Bhi come in and do a song for our Hasty Revelations project. I was a little nervous about meeting him, as I always am when I meet someone who I think is extremely talented. Turns out he’s pretty much the nicest guy you could hope to run into. He was much more concerned with talking about where he should go for pizza than his album, and between Rick and I we can turn “Where should I go for pizza?” into a pretty long conversation. So we chatted for about an hour, and I was left with the impression that Bhi is a great person who happens to be an amazing songwriter.
Which brings us to the present. Bhi’s his new album Bhiman is coming out, and he is also playing a show in Chicago with Martin Sexton. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the record early, and I am deeply impressed with the enhanced sounds. Most of what I’ve heard by Bhi has been acoustic, with just him and his guitar. On Bhiman he, along with Sam Kassirer, have layered the songs with horns and strings and other brilliant flourishes that really bring out the emotional resonance. There are many great songs on the record, but let me highlight a few for you.
If you pay any attention to the internet, and in particular music sites or blogs, you’ve probably already heard “Guttersnipe” and “Time Heals.” They’ve both been all over the place lately, and their success is well-deserved, but for the sake of time, let’s move ahead to something new.
“Crime Of Passion” is near the top of my favorite songs on Bhiman, and it includes the number one line off the record for me. As the title implies, the song is about a jealous lover who finds his lady with another man. The song deals with the topic in a funny way, but also paints a very vivid picture of a man at the end of his rope. It’s a simple tune, with just Bhi and a twelve-string, that really captures the situation. The line that I’m thinking of comes after the deed has been done and the main character is in his cell (if you don’t get why it’s funny, I apologize):
Locked up in the cooler I’m the new kid in the hall
But seeing her happy wasn’t happiness at all
And someone yelled, “Orenthal”
On “The Cookbook” (also the name of Bhi’s previous album) the issue of corporate greed is tackled. The allusions to the minimum security prison sentences that white collar criminals receive is pretty dead on, and I love the way he equates it to the scenes in Goodfellas where all the mobsters are playing cards and making pasta sauce. The song namechecks Jeffrey Skilling, who may be one of the worst human beings on the planet (if you don’t know who he is, check out the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room). It’s a great play on American avarice, and the way it effects each of us.
“Atlatl” has actually been around for a while now, so I won’t spend too much time on it. There are some great lines, and the chorus pretty much speaks for the whole song: “You talk a lot about killin’ (killin’) But then there’s the being killed, too You went off to war with a broken atlatl And the natives are coming for you.”
I don’t want to spoil any more of the record for you, so I’ll end my song descriptions there. I will say that songwriters like Bhi Bhiman don’t come around every day. There are men and women who can write eloquently about the state of our nation, and there are others who can make you laugh at the absurdity of life. Rarely are the two combined in one person. So, with that in mind, please pick up this record and enjoy it. Tell your friends, and when you go see Mr. Bhiman in concert, say hello and thank him for his genius.
Bhiman comes out January 24th, but you can preorder from Bhi’s website now and get mp3’s as early as the 21st. Bhi is performing with Martin Sexton January 19th in Ann Arbor, Michigan, January 20th in Chicago, January 21st in Stoughton, Wisconsin, and January 22nd in St Paul, Minnesota. If you are in any of those areas, I would suggest checking him out.