Scott H. Biram's latest album begins with creepy phone messages in which he's pleading with his mom to get him from the hospital. The first message gets skipped mid way, the second plays through as Biram explains he's been tied to the bed. The intro adds a certain darkness to the album despite its other upbeat threads and rockin' guitar solos.
The Austin, Texas, one-man band—Biram plays a '59 Gibson, mouth harp and uses a stomp board—knows Delta blues as well as the dusty roads of old time country. I can't resist the punkabilly grit of his previous albums Graveyard Shift (2006) and The Dirty Old One Man Band (2005), but Biram's slightly more polished, packaged restraint on Something's Wrong doesn't fall flat. Little details like the ghostly organ intro in "Time Flies" and the folksy reverb of "Wildside" show Biram's range while keeping his wicked essence.
"Judgment Day" does get back to vintage Biram with hillbilly mania, unabashed swears, creaky chords and a general sense of being on the brink of falling apart. It's nice to have those moments. Lines like "Don't ya worry sugar baby, honey baby, don't ya ever be afraid," balance well with his newfound pockets of eerie menace.
Scott H. Biram plays the Palace Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 9 PM with the Dirt Daubers. $10.