CD Reviews for 04/22/05 (Bloodshot stuff – Rex Hobart, Devil In Woodpile, Scott H. Biram) by Dan…

Bloodshot Records begins 2005 in typically insurgent fashion with three longplayers that follow the M.O. of the raw, anti-commercial sounds for which the label has become renowned. Two of the releases come from long-time Bloodshot acts in Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys and Devil In the Woodpile, while the third release is from a newcomer to the indie label’s stable in Austin, Texas-based one man roots racket squad Scott H. Biram. Upcoming releases later in the year from the Bloodshot include Graham Parker, the label debut from bluegrassers Jim & Jennie & the Pinetops, and a 15th anniversary celebration collection.

Rex Hobart & the Misery Boys
Empty House
Bloodshot Records BS-114

When he and his band launched into their first number as the clock struck noon at a free beer and BBQ afternoon bash in the backyard of the infamous Yard Dog Folk Art shop located on Austin’s funky South Congress Avenue strip just last March, it didn’t take but a paltry 20 seconds or so to realize that Rex Hobart & the Misery Boys were one tight as a choker country and western band. Between Hobart and company’s songs and singin’ was a wealth of pure, 100-proof sounds. It was a brief set that flew by all too fast and had attendees craving more from where that came from. Frankly speaking, I can think of few bands in the alt country ranks that have delivered the honky tonk goods as consistently as Hobart and his band have over the course of its first three albums. With its latest release called Empty House, the group stays the course with a record possessing an authentic country shine. A Show-Me State entity which for all intents and purposes is based out of Kansas City, Empty House features 10 original Hobart compositions to go with a cover from a mighty appropriate source in the hard country scheme of things in “It Won’t Be Long (And Be Hating You)” from the late Johnny Paycheck. When it comes to the originals, Hobart’s songs reek of barstool bard purity each marked by crafty wordplay and subject matter knee-deep in the pathos of country and western tragedy and heartbreak that is lockstep with works from lyrical masters of the trade with names like Haggard and Jones. Empty House features some beauties, among them the total tonk ‘n’ twang of “Heartache To Hide” on which the central character tries to find that delicate balance between his “good gal” and his “side” gal. There’s the regretful tone of “I Don’t Like That Mirror” and the swingin’ “The Tear I Left Behind” with its clever mix of humor and sincerity. Simply put, this is honky tonk roadhouse-ready stuff that makes the glow of the beer neon seem a little warmer, that drink wash down a little easier from, and all from a band that continues to find its comfort zone. The big plus is that it all just sounds so right. Towards that end, credit the spot-on accompaniment of the Misery Boys who are to Hobart what the Buckeroos were to Buck Owens. They feature Solomon Hofer on pedal steel, dobro and harmonica, J.B. Morris on lead guitar, Blackjack Snow on bass, and T.C. Dobbs on drums. Empty House also features a guest spot by Betse Ellis of band The Wilders who adds a bit of a hillbilly flavoring contributing fiddle on a handful of tunes. In all, Empty House displays a group that is hitting its stride. Only a third of the way into the recording year, I’ll go out on a limb right now and say that as far as genuine country recordings are concerned, this one will be awfully tough to top come year’s end. (Bloodshot Records, 3039 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago, IL 60618, or

Devil In A Woodpile
In Your Lonesome Town
Bloodshot Records BS-117

Music for a Sunday afternoon is what I label the latest release called In Your Lonesome Town from the Chicago-based trio Devil In A Woodpile. That categorization comes as a result of a slew of late Sunday afternoon wind-down sessions here at the house over the course of February and March where the Sunday papers and music with a rustic, down home groove was the perfect elixir to help cork the weekend. A couple of cold ones didn’t hurt the mood, either. Label Devil In A Woodpile a jug band that doesn’t rely too much on the jug. Toddles, wobbles, rags and blues done in the old timey tradition is the specialty of this band as demonstrated by this new 12-song collection. In Your Lonesome Town offers up a soulful dose of the same sort of unplugged, juke joint mash the three-piece unleashes on the citified Windy City folk on a regular basis. The mastermind behind the operation is one Rick “Cookin'” Sherry who concocted the outfit in the mid-1990s. A multi-instrumentalist playing harmonica, washboard and kick drum all at the same time, not to mention the occasional clarinet and jug, Sherry’s roughshod voice is equal parts carnival barker and blues man. Accompanied in highly complimentary fashion by Tom V. Ray (Waco Brothers, ex-Bottle Rockets) on bass and Joel Paterson on guitars and kazoo, one to listen to In Your Lonesome Town and it’s easy to hear that Sherry is the straw that stirs the Devil In The Woodpile drink. Other than a single original number called “Beer Ticket Rag” (which has brought big cheer to those aforementioned late Sunday afternoon relaxation sessions just fine), the tune lineup is almost entirely straight out of yesteryear with songs from the old-time blues tradition from the likes of Sonny Terry, Charlie Patton, Big Bill Broonzy, and Sonny Boy Williamson. There is one exception, however, that being a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” which features some nifty fingerpicking on acoustic guitar by Paterson to get the ball rolling. In all, In Your Lonesome Town is a ragged but right collection throwback stuff straight out of the South.

Scott H. Biram
The Dirty Old One Man Band
Bloodshot Records BS-122

Read the bio of Austin-based rawkabilly cat Scott H. Biram and you’ll probably come away scratching your head wondering how the guy is even alive. It was just two years ago that Biram found himself in a head-on collision with an 18-wheeler while cruising at 75 miles per hour. First and foremost, it is more than amazing he survived the wreck. The tally was two broken legs, a broken foot and arm, and the loss of a 12-inch hunk of his lower intestine. But there he was only a couple of months later on stage at Austin’s Continental Club in a wheel chair with an I.V. hanging from his arm playing like a man possessed while preaching his punkified hillbilly gospel. It was a true litmus test of just how dedicated this dude is to his craft (and probably that he’s a little nuts). If you asked me to place the music of Scott H. Biram, I’d have to say his minimalist approach lands smack dab in the middle between West Virginia wild man Hasil Adkins and the primitive antics of the rockabilly/blues/garage twosome Flat Duo Jets. Label him a one man racket squad for whom the tools of the trade are little more than a beat-up ’59 Gibson guitar and a relentlessly pounding left foot that he amplifies to bolster his songs. For the uninitiated, the ferociousness of his live performances have the potential to scare neophytes right out of a joint. In other words, Biram’s music ain’t for the feint at heart. A force of nature is more like it. It brings to mind the first time this writer saw him perform. It was a year ago this past March at a dive in Austin called the Parlor. Biram was hunkered down with his chair and amp just inside the open doorway of the place. Outside, the rain was coming down as hard as I’ve ever seen. Yet, as hard as the rain was bulleting from the sky, its intensity seemed to throttle Biram to strum the guitar harder and harder as if to raise a middle finger to ol’ Mother Nature to take that! It sure had the Parlor revelers, this cat included, convinced of his otherworldly powers. With The Dirty Old One Man Band, Biram affords listeners the ability to bring that Parlor experience into their own listening space. Mixing studio material with live stuff (the latter actually included a couple of tracks recorded at the aforementioned Parlor), the album features Biram in all his one man band glory dishing out his unique brand of tattered, lo-fi mojo. It’s a frenzied 42 minutes of music from one intense dude.