SCOTT H. BI­RAM THE BAD TES­TA­MENT

Pasatiempo - - TERRELL'S TUNE-UP - Steve Ter­rell NO TIME FOR RIGHTEOUS WAYS: SCOTT H. BI­RAM’S THE BAD TES­TA­MENT

“I’m here to tell you about some­thing that just might save your life.” Those are the first in­tel­li­gi­ble words you hear on The Bad Tes­ta­ment, the new al­bum by Scott H. Bi­ram — that dirty old one-man band from Austin — right after a few sec­onds of am­bi­ent ra­dio noise and when the first song, “Set Me Free” ac­tu­ally be­gins. I can’t hon­estly say this al­bum saved my life or will save yours. But it sure won’t hurt. The im­por­tant thing is, this might be the best Bi­ram al­bum yet.

While it boasts the ba­sic Bi­ram sound — his rough-edged voice over acous­tic guitar and foot­stomp­ing — as a song­writer, Bi­ram just keeps im­prov­ing. He can still rock hard and crazy, the best ex­am­ples here be­ing “TrainWrecker” and “Hit the River,” a wild in­stru­men­tal. He’s not afraid to get ob­scene if the spirit says so, as he proves on “Swift Driftin’.” And he has al­ways had a way with good-time drink­ing songs like “Red Wine.” (One can eas­ily imag­ine Texas honky-tonker Dale Wat­son singing this one.) But what Bi­ram re­ally has go­ing for him is a knack for writ­ing down­right pretty blues-soaked coun­try songs, and The Bad Tes­ta­ment has plenty of those.

“Still Around” is a mi­nor-key song of a scorned lover, proud and defiant: “Go ahead and throw me down, I might be broke, I’m still around,” he sings. “I’m the weapon in your hand/I’m the stone that drags you down/I am the rock on which you stand/I am the one who hangs around.” The lyrics pro­vide few clues as to what led to the singer’s an­gry words (“I have never been your friend/I’m just worn down by wind”), but the pain is au­di­ble. Plus there’s some pretty fancy near-fla­menco fin­ger­pick­ing in a cou­ple of places here.

“Crip­pled & Crazy” could very well be au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal. Nearly 15 years ago Bi­ram sur­vived an auto ac­ci­dent — a head-on col­li­sion with a pickup truck — that ba­si­cally broke ev­ery bone in his body. Those wounds ap­par­ently still haunt him, as do oth­ers. With a sad elec­tric or­gan adding a lit­tle tex­ture, Bi­ram sings of be­ing “crip­pled and crazy and out of con­trol” as well as be­ing “sober and stupid” and “sold down the river.” On the heart-wrench­ing bridge he cries, “Call­ing all an­gels, all heartaches and demons, call­ing all lovers that left for no rea­son, down through the cham­ber that echoed the screamin’; twisted and turnin’ I just quit be­lievin’ in love.’’

“Righteous Ways,” with its own sweet fin­ger­pick­ing, sounds as if Bi­ram has been lis­ten­ing to some Mis­sis­sippi John Hurt. It’s an in­tro­spec­tive num­ber on which he yearns for a spir­i­tu­al­ity he knows he may never achieve. “I strug­gle all the time in my mind and in my heart,” he sings. “There’s just never enough time for righteous ways.”

But later on the al­bum he makes a stab at right­eous­ness, with “True Re­li­gion,” an a cap­pella tune that goes back at least as far as Lead­belly (and I sus­pect fur­ther). Bi­ram’s prob­a­bly be­ing tongue-in-cheek here, see­ing how the song is sand­wiched be­tween crazy re­li­gious ra­dio sam­ples. But in light of “Righteous Ways,” I sus­pect there’s a grain of earnest­ness too. Bi­ram may seem a lit­tle bit touched at times, but I think the an­gels are among those who touched him. Get that true re­li­gion at www.blood­shotrecords. com/al­bum/bad-tes­ta­ment. Also rec­om­mended: ▼ Front Porch Ses­sions by The Reverend Pey­ton’s Big Damn Band. This “big damn band” con­sists of ex­actly three peo­ple: Josh Pey­ton on vo­cals and guitar; his wife, Breezy Pey­ton, on wash­board and back­ground vo­cals; and drum­mer Maxwell Sen­teney — three peo­ple and no more. It might seem odd to de­scribe this al­bum as more stripped-down than pre­vi­ous al­bums, but that’s what it is. The record wasn’t re­ally recorded on Pey­ton’s front porch. But it sounds as if it might have been. It could be the sound­track of a great sum­mer bar­be­cue, where the mu­sic is as tasty as the ribs.

There are not as many hard­chug­ging songs as on most of the al­bums by this In­di­ana trio. In some ways, Front Porch re­sem­bles the 2011 al­bum Pey­ton on Pat­ton, which was a solo al­bum in which the Reverend played songs by blues pioneer Charley Pat­ton. The new al­bum has sev­eral cov­ers of blues greats as well: Furry Lewis’ “When My Baby Left Me,” Blind Wil­lie John­son’s gospel stom­per “Let Your Light Shine,” and “When You Lose Your Money,” which is based on Lewis’ ver­sion of the clas­sic bad-man bal­lad “Billy Lyons & Stack O’ Lee.”

Pey­ton’s orig­i­nals are wor­thy as well. The sweet open­ing cut, “We De­serve a Happy End­ing,” sung with Breezy, is a mod­er­ate tempo blues, ac­cented by the Reverend’s slide, about mar­i­tal joy. “Even when we’re los­ing, it feels like we are win­ning,” the cou­ple sing. The mood shifts with “What You Did to the Boy Ain’t Right,” on which the singer scolds, “I don’t want to fight, but what you did to the boy ain’t right.” It’s never spelled out what ex­actly was done to whom. We just know the Reverend don’t like it. Then there is the slow “One Bad Shoe,” which works an ex­is­ten­tial metaphor about trav­el­ing un­pre­pared, know­ing there’s a good chance you won’t make it to your des­ti­na­tion.

In the tra­di­tion of pre­vi­ous Reverend Pey­ton food songs — like “Pot Roast and Kisses,” “Born Bred Corn Fed,” and “Mama’s Fried Pota­toes” — the fi­nal track on Front Porch Ses­sions is “Corn­bread and But­ter­beans.” Here Pey­ton cel­e­brates “eatin’ beans and makin’ love as long as I am able.” It’s a well-de­served feast. Visit Reverend Pey­ton’s Big Damn Band at www .big­damn­band.com.

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