Bhi Bhiman – Bhiman [Album Review]

by Woody on March 29, 2012

We’re all guilty of judging a book by its cover at one point or another. I’ll write off bands just based on their name alone if I’m tired or cranky. So when receiving an email about Bhi Bhiman with all sorts of plaudits about how he was the next American folk-hero and the accompanying picture of a sophisticated Indian gentleman (yes, I now know he is of Sri Lankan descent) wearing a dapper suit and spectacles, I was a bit skeptical to say the least.

Thankfully I had gotten a good night’s sleep or ate a healthy lunch because I pushed on to the music and was greeted by one of the best debuts of the year. His powerful booming voice practically makes mics unnecessary and his lyrics are brilliant – worthy of your full attention.

“Ballerina” tells the tale of a ballerina gone bad, “I’m a Ballerina, a ballerina, a ballerina on the lamb.” Tangled in the yarn of the ballerina’s tale, you’ll find some biting commentary on Wal-Mart which is subtle, yet damn funny.

“Kimchi Line” is as simple a tune as you’ll get, telling the song from the perspective of a jailed North Korean who sings of a fat great leader as he starves in his cell. It’s got a Leadbelly covers Woody Guthrie vibe.  “Cookbook” doesn’t mince words in its damning indictment of corporate America’s penchant for cooking the books at the expense of the common man. Bhiman certainly has a few current events on his mind, but the political edge isn’t off-putting. The messages feel tucked away in the songs and overshadowed by melody and, again, those commanding vocals.

We were fortunate to get Bhi into the HearYa studio this past Sunday for a session. You can visit Amazon to download “Guttersnipe” for free or the entire album for 6.99, so give Bhiman a spin. I’m sure you will find both of your thumbs pointing towards the sky.

Update: Bhi also released a new video for “Atlatl” (second video below) that explores racial stereotypes in early Disney cartoons. The cartoon featured is called “Pioneer Days” from the 1930’s. Bhi’s commentary:

I’ve always loved Disney cartoons. I love the playfulness and skill of the artists. “Pioneer Days” is amazing because Disney was OK with putting out films like this (and “Mickey’s Man Friday”) with heavy racial stereotypes. But at the same time, Disney wasn’t inventing these stereotypes. They were promoting and reflecting what was probably common thought throughout America at the time.

Bhi Bhiman – Kimchi Line

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve McCoy March 29, 2012 at 10:52 am

Agreed. I found it nearly impossible to buy this album b/c of the name and photo. But man am I glad I overcame my judging-a-book-by-it’s-cover tendencies. Great album.

Ashish Chaudhary April 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I think this is one of the best albums I have heard in a long time and this review is quite nice. One question I have is why Bhiman’s appearance was so bothersome. He looks rather normal to me. I have seen many caucasian singer/songwriters dressed up so I have to wonder if the writer (and “Steve McCoy”) are not suffering from some latent racism that they are perhaps unaware of. Was it the sight of a man in a suit or a Brown man in a suit that was so off-putting? No one seems to mind when the Punch Brothers are wearing suits and ties…or even glasses. Why is Bhiman any different?

Woody April 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm

@Ashish – Thank you for the kind words on the review. I hope the review didn’t come across as portraying me as rascist because that’s not what I am about. As with all my reviews, I try to be honest and that was my initial reaction. As for Bhi being of Sri Lankan descent, yes that had something to do with it. You don’t normally see Sri Lankans or anyone of South Asian descent in the American folk music arena. It was out of the ordinary until listening. That’s the point I was trying to make. I’m sure folks in India might be a little skeptical reading a press release about a country boy from the United States playing traditional Indian folk music. The bottom line is that Bhi is extremely talented and we love him.

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