Born to emigrant Sri Lankan parents and named after Bhima, a central character in an ancient Indian text called The Mahabharata, Bhi Bhiman (pronounced 'Bee Bee-men') came of age in 1990s St. Louis, reared on Soundgarden and Nirvana. But here the album 'BHIMAN' covers a wide stylistic range, from country and soul, to West African-influenced folk. Through every deviation of style, Bhiman's powerful voice and love of wordplay carry the listener on a compelling journey. He sings from the perspective of a railroading hobo in 'Guttersnipe' (a sprawling, nearly seven-minute epic folk testimonial with a deep empathy for the downtrodden), a hopeful retiree in 'Take What I'm Given', an oppressed North Korean in 'Kimchee Line', a jealous lover in 'Eye on You' and a happy-go-lucky redneck in 'Ballerina'. 'Mexican Wine' is an instrumental that sounds like Simon & Garfunkel jamming in West Africa. 'Crime of Passion' is a buoyant murder ballad (as unlikely as that seems). Through every deviation of style, Bhiman's love of wordplay and that jaw-dropping voice carry the listener through to a new track and a compelling new story.
Bhi seems transported from an era when songs were more important than the pretty faces that delivered them. His rich, bellowing tenor can soothe or explode at a moment's notice. His lived-in, knowing delivery belies his years. His songwriting, too, is quick to captivate. Bhi's mix of humour and deep empathy puts him in the company of distinguished (and much older) lifelong songsmiths like John Prine, Nick Lowe and Randy Newman. And Bhiman's technical, emotive guitar playing rises to the challenge that his striking voice presents but his approach - comical, curious, whip-smart - remains wholly unique. As a songwriter, Bhi consistently exceeds the expectations that should rightly rest on the shoulders of a well-adjusted twenty-something. He can inhabit any number of disparate characters and make them his own.
BHIMAN is Bhi's first truly great album, but one gets the impression that he'll be singing his stories for a very long time to come his soulful, instantly striking voice has been compared to Bill Withers, Richie Havens, and Jim James, while the Willamette Week described him as "a traveling Dust Bowl folkie crossed with Nina Simone."
Thurs Feb 7th - The Castle Hotel, 66 Oldham Street
Manchester M41LE. (With Marc Carroll)
Fri Feb 8th - The Purcell Room, Southbank Centre
London SE1 8XX. Tickets from the Bhi Bhiman website
Each ticket for this show gets preferred seating and comes with a three track
bonus CD, shipped with your order featuring;
Crazy (Gnarls Barkley cover) Equal in My Tea Guttersnipe (acoustic)
Bhiman on BBC2's Later With Jools Holland performing 'Guttersnipe'.
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.