Something heavy is happening to Scott H. Biram. There he is, eyes rolling back in his head, arms outstretched, consumed with bliss, exhaustion, or guilt, being consigned to the old crimson river. In this moment, being baptized in blood might be Biram’s dark epiphany, the 12 songs of Nothin’ But Blood a conduit for an emotional fight or flight, relaying a deep personal grapple between the pure and the impure, good and bad, the beautiful dream and an ugly reality.
What in the past has been expressed through reeling irreverence and spirit-lifting profanity (which he’s still got in spades; don’t worry) is here a more penetrating, and chilling, version of The Dirty Old One Man Band– self-examining and penitent, yet still as crazy as a jack-eyed preacher. On his ninth album (and fifth for Bloodshot Records) ‘blood’ is many, often inherently contradictory, themes: life, death, suffering, evil, commitment, legacy, atonement. Even in its title, ‘Nothin’ But’ could mean ‘all encompassing’ or ‘it’s no big deal.’ Literally, all or nothing.
There are songs where Biram — the hard-living, whiskey-loving lifelong Texan — howls of mortality (‘When I Die’), sin (‘Backdoor Man’), and guilt and frustration (‘Slow & Easy’), all the while struggling with which side he’ll end up on (and it probably ain’t the one with golden halos and white wings). He deftly sews together a myriad of flawed everymancharacters: nostalgic, stoned veteran (‘Nam Weed’); boozing, jealous lover (‘Alcohol Blues’); and sadistic muses (‘Church Point Girls’).
The rousing Black Flag-meets-Son House boot-stomper ‘Only Whiskey’ punches a hole in the notion of temperance and rewrites the meaning of monogamy — the story of a man so disillusioned with romance he reserves vice as his permanent bed partner. In ‘Gotta Get to Heaven’, fervent ‘hallelujahs’ allude to a youthful and impious Biram, who quit churchat 10 years-old but also found his life’s calling when an African-American Baptist choir performed for his grade school.
Throughout Nothin’ But Blood, recorded at Biram’s home studio and Cacophony Studios in Austin, TX, SHB’s distinct songwriting style encompasses his penchant for sludge metal and palm muting (‘Around the Bend’), the raw sucker punch of punk rock (‘Only Whiskey’), profound truths of sentimental acoustic blues and country (‘Never Comin’ Home’), the cleansing powers of gospel hymns and spiritual ballads (‘When I Die’), and folk tales from the early 20th century (there has never been a more beautifully creepy and morosely slinky take on ‘Jack of Diamonds’).
When you boil it all down in a simmering cauldron, Nothin’ But Blood is storytelling about wrongdoing and redemption. Scott H. Biram’s music is from the soul, for the soul, of the soul — and with this album, the spiritual buckshot lodges deeper than ever.
Reid Stone (Guilt Ridden Troubadour):