As with a singer like Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons) or Iris Dement, what strikes you first about Bhi Bhiman’s music is his voice — a keening, gender-neutral yawp that’s as earthy as it is ethereal, as puckish as it is wise. “We got married in a Walmart / Down by the Wrangler jeans,” he chirps in “Ballerina,” retooling the opening line of June Carter and Johnny Cash’s 1966 hit, “Jackson.” From there he unfurls a bloody yet riotous yarn, replete with allusions to Hank Williams Jr. and George Foreman grills, about a fugitive dancer-turned-murderer and her husband and partner in crime.
The press release that came with the review copy of “Bhiman” likens the artist and his latter-day busking to Woody Guthrie, Randy Newman and John Prine and there’s a lot to that: wry and subversive, the writing and performances here are first-rate, folk-based and undeniably unique. “Kimchee Line” borrows bits of melody from Lead Belly’s “Rock Island Line” to animate the laughing-to-keep-from-crying lament of a North Korean wage slave toiling in a kimchi factory. In the droll “Life’s Been Better” he whines, “Life’s been better, I’ve had more cheddar / But all my feta’s run dry.”