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Bhi Bhiman: Penetrating Melodies, Striking Vocals

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Bhi Bhiman: Penetrating Melodies, Striking Vocals

Music Reviews

Bhi Bhiman: Penetrating Melodies, Striking Vocals

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BHI BHIMAN: (Singing) Hold me down, keep me back. I don't know what I'd do. My baby's with that man again. I thought that they was through.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is the music of singer-songwriter Bhi Bhiman. With his folk melodies and wry lyrics, he's been compared to Woody Guthrie. His new album is called "Bhiman" and Robert Christgau has our review.

ROBERT CHRISTGAU, BYLINE: Delivering a brief, early opening set in Manhattan one recent Monday, Bhi Bhiman looked like a law clerk in Mumbai stopping by for a drink after work - a neat South Asian man in a newsboy cap and glasses wearing a gray sweater over a wing-collared white shirt, except for one thing. He was holding a big acoustic guitar and picking it John Hurt style as he sang a little something about kimchee.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KIMCHEE LINE")

BHIMAN: (Singing) So I climbed upon a ladder to see what I could see. Well, the (unintelligible) is getting fatter, I feel my stomach bleed. I'm on the Kimchee line. I'm on the Kimchee line. I'm on the Kimchee line and it's scallion time.

CHRISTGAU: Singing blues in a vocal style that suggests a more modest Nina Simone would be an unusual formal choice for any young person in 2012. For a second generation Sri Lankan-American who grew up on grunge, it's a heroic act of will, but Bhiman's songs would be remarkable from anybody. Here's another track from his self-titled album. It's called "Ballerina."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BALLERINA")

BHIMAN: (Singing) We got married in a Wal-Mart down by the Wrangler jeans. I'm 'a dress my baby like a vampire next week on Halloween.

CHRISTGAU: Bhiman is a penetrating melodist, as well as an accomplished guitarist and a striking singer, but what he likes best about songwriting is word play. Note the trick rhymes on the sadder, but funnier "Life's Been Better."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIFE'S BEEN BETTER")

BHIMAN: (Singing) Life's been better. I had more cheddar, but all my feta's run dry. I packed my bag and I'm headed for Saginaw. I'm guessing that you're tagging along. I called my captain to make something happen, but he said that he was napping it off.

CHRISTGAU: Bhi Bhiman is a work in progress. He gets a lot out of his guitar and some spare accompaniment, but he's mired in four-four rhythmically, and his personal songs don't sink as deep as the descriptive ones. Nevertheless, he's an original in a folky mode that always looks played out until the next surprise from nowhere comes along.

That surprise begins with the first track on "Bhiman," a song called the "Guttersnipe" that had me listening before his voice even entered.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUTTERSNIPE")

BHIMAN: (Singing) I jumped the first train I saw. It'll surely take me home.

SIEGEL: The new album from Bhi Bhiman is called "Bhiman." Our reviewer is Robert Christgau.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUTTERSNIPE")

BHIMAN: (Singing) I had a mama. At least I'd have a place to go, but I'm just a guttersnipe. I got no place to wipe my nose.

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