The opening track of Scott H. Biram's Something's Wrong/Lost Forever is a whispered voice mail message he left on a friend's phone a short time after surviving a horrific wreck with a tractor-trailer in 2003: "They've got me held prisoner over here. ... They've got me tied down to the bed ... I really need your help ... I need to get out of here ... Please."
Full of morphine for the pain and watching uniformed soldiers walk around the military hospital where he was airlifted, he tried to escape his "captors" twice before being restrained -- and then still managed to get an arm free and make a frantic call for help.
Granted, he was in an altered state of consciousness, but this story underlines Biram's tenacity and fierce independence. Just weeks later, still in a wheelchair and with an IV dangling from his arm, he delivered a performance at Austin's Continental Club that solidified his reputation as a relentless performer.
Biram works as a one-man-band, and he's one of the artists at the forefront of a growing scene that fuses roots music and punk rock. With his vintage Gibson hollow-bodied guitar, amplified stomp box and harmonica, he plows madly through songs that draw equally from blues, country, gospel, bluegrass and metal styles -- frequently surprising listeners with the amount of sound (or noise) he can create.
"If someone hasn't heard me ... and then I get up [onstage], they're like 'Oh, great, here's a singer-songwriter coming,'" he says. "Then I start bringing all these amps up ... and I'm louder than the band before me. And that kick that I got going -- that solid stomp -- almost every song that I have has basically that same beat. It's a lot like a heartbeat, and it just gets the girls shaking their asses and it goes from there."
Now, with Something's Wrong/Lost Forever, his third release for Bloodshot Records, that roots-punk mix is hitting its stride. The album features blues duo the Black Diamond Heavies on "I Feel So Good," covers of gospel laments "Ain't It a Shame" and "Go Down Ol' Hannah" and Biram's own brand of distorted honky-tonk.
"It's just that feeling of awkwardness ... that 'something's bothering me' feeling," he says of the album.
The name comes from a combination of a wild-mushroom eating experience in high school and his deep love for the sounds that come out of CB radios.
"I just think there's so much, like there's so many songs ready to be made by the [conversations] on there," he says. "I was driving and listening to the CB one time and I heard this trucker. I guess they had been lost for a long time or something, and they were trying to find the highway, and he goes, 'Looks like we're just gonna be lost forever.' And I was like, 'There you go!'"
Arguably, the "most country" song on the album is a track called "Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue." A weary-sounding slow-burn, Biram wrote it one hungover Sunday on his way to a family dinner.
"I called my mom like, 'I think I wrote a hit country song,'" he recalls. "It's kind of like me and my ex ... just fed off of each other's drunkenness and were fighting all the time and just getting wasted. She left and took off and got with somebody else, and it's kind of me saying, 'Yeah, I'm still drunk. I'm still crazy. I'm still blue. I'm still over here doing the same thing I used to do.'"
But that harsh imagery is offset by his approach to the gospel tunes.
"I have always on my records wanted to show all the fingers of my talents," he explains. "Show that I can do the harp, I can sing, I can sing a cappella and show that I can rock, and show that I can play country. ... I just think gospel music is beautiful, and it brings about this feeling of rejoicing. ... We all have troubles and trials, and singing is a really good way to get it out."
Biram's troubles seem to go deeper than most, though, as "Judgment Day" shows. The song starts with samples from the near-apocalyptic media reports we've become accustom to before launching into a blazing fast two-step.
"That's kind of a gospel song in its own way," he says. "It's a little bit, 'Hey, look, the judgment day is comin'. We better all get ready.' And then at the same time, somewhere in there it's a little, 'Damn you all to hell ... that f**ked me over.'" He laughs, adding, "That's kind of the feeling every album so far has had."
And for Biram, those unavoidable reminders of the human condition never seem far away. Three months ago, he broke his leg in France while finishing up a European tour. Since the leg is essential for his performances, he was forced to cancel his spring tour but promises to make up the dates.
"I was fighting this pimp in Paris," he jokes. "No, I thought I had reached my quota of broken limbs six years ago [during the wreck], but I guess I had one more to go."