Ian Moore, the Seattle-based, Austin, TX-born guitar player, singer and songwriter makes the proverbial renaissance man look lazy. Coming on the heels of Strange Days, his most successful record since his eponymous debut and despite a never-ending cycle of touring, Moore offers a new release of bright, blazing rock-n-roll that combines his legendary guitar prowess with radio-friendly songs that showcase his elastic, soul-inflected vocals. “It’s a very different climate right now. When we hit a city, it doens’t matter that i have 14 records, radio hits, etc. The only thing that matters is if we can really show up and leave the people feeling they saw something amazing. Its keeps me hungry, and I like the challenge” says Moore.
For years, Ian has had his eyes on the challenges faced by musicians of every stripe, having experienced the spectrum of artist successes and tribulations over a nearly 30-year career. In response, he founded the artist’s healthcare alliance SMASH (Seattle Musicians Access to Sustainable Healthcare) and has joined the board of NARAS for the Pacific Northwest as governor and head of the advocacy committee.
You might have been surprised to hear Moore’s voice popping up on major network shows on prime time television this past year; several selections were prominently being featured as performances on both American Idol and The Voice (“Satisfied” and “Blue Sky”).
Moore’s story is often told and probably familiar to most critics; his initial record on Capricorn propelled him to national tours with the Rolling Stones, ZZ Top and Bob Dylan, acting in the acclaimed indie feature Sling Blade and having Ice Cube direct the video for his track “Harlem.”
Moore deviated from his initial blues-oriented guitar sound on subsequent records, touching on graceful pop songs and the psychedelic as well as British pub rock and deep Americana. Toronto and its 6 tracks represents those influences in such a way that they have informed his songwriting, but is likely more recognizable as a strong collection of the kind of guitar rock his core fan base would respond to immediately.
On the triumphant “You Gotta Know My Name”, Moore lampoons rich, entitled hipster kids. “They get their marching orders from Pitchfork and fill their brains with coke and MDMA, looking for soul and depth”, Moore explains. “The chorus is a way of claiming my space as a person that has been slogging it out, in and out of fashion for most of my career, with a deeper sense of music, style and substance than the people that might quickly write me off.”
The anthemic “Lords of the Levee” is a contemporary, relevant take on the atmosphere of the U.S. right now.“ It’s an attack on group thought,” Moore says, “which is most typically shrouded in God and country, that allows people to do some really terrible things. I wrote it about the Alabama voters rights act, and how the people that opposed it used both God and country to justify their abhorrent behavior.”
And it captures Ian’s blistering live sound probably better than any recording he’s released in recent memory. The catchy, propulsive “Looking for the Sound” is a play on the record title “El Sonido Nuevo,” which he wrote with his last group, the Lossy Coils. “It comes from a Mighty Boosh skit, but the gist of the song is about what it is to be a touring musician, trying to build soul and culture, still believing the same things I believed when I was 18, and looking for open hearts and minds to feel it.”
On other tracks on the record, “Satellite” and the slightly outrageous “Rock N Roll,” Moore explores the underbelly of rock, the bright side and the dangers of living your life in the magic of midnight.
Something heavy is happening to Scott H. Biram. There he is, eyes rolling back in his head, arms outstretched, consumed with bliss, exhaustion, or guilt, being consigned to the old crimson river. In this moment, being baptized in blood might be Biram’s dark epiphany, the 12 songs of Nothin’ But Blood a conduit for an emotional fight or flight, relaying a deep personal grapple between the pure and the impure, good and bad, the beautiful dream and an ugly reality.
What in the past has been expressed through reeling irreverence and spirit-lifting profanity (which he’s still got in spades; don’t worry) is here a more penetrating, and chilling, version of The Dirty Old One Man Band– self-examining and penitent, yet still as crazy as a jack-eyed preacher. On his ninth album (and fifth for Bloodshot Records) ‘blood’ is many, often inherently contradictory, themes: life, death, suffering, evil, commitment, legacy, atonement. Even in its title, ‘Nothin’ But’ could mean ‘all encompassing’ or ‘it’s no big deal.’ Literally, all or nothing.
There are songs where Biram — the hard-living, whiskey-loving lifelong Texan — howls of mortality (‘When I Die’), sin (‘Backdoor Man’), and guilt and frustration (‘Slow & Easy’), all the while struggling with which side he’ll end up on (and it probably ain’t the one with golden halos and white wings). He deftly sews together a myriad of flawed everymancharacters: nostalgic, stoned veteran (‘Nam Weed’); boozing, jealous lover (‘Alcohol Blues’); and sadistic muses (‘Church Point Girls’).
The rousing Black Flag-meets-Son House boot-stomper ‘Only Whiskey’ punches a hole in the notion of temperance and rewrites the meaning of monogamy — the story of a man so disillusioned with romance he reserves vice as his permanent bed partner. In ‘Gotta Get to Heaven’, fervent ‘hallelujahs’ allude to a youthful and impious Biram, who quit churchat 10 years-old but also found his life’s calling when an African-American Baptist choir performed for his grade school.
Throughout Nothin’ But Blood, recorded at Biram’s home studio and Cacophony Studios in Austin, TX, SHB’s distinct songwriting style encompasses his penchant for sludge metal and palm muting (‘Around the Bend’), the raw sucker punch of punk rock (‘Only Whiskey’), profound truths of sentimental acoustic blues and country (‘Never Comin’ Home’), the cleansing powers of gospel hymns and spiritual ballads (‘When I Die’), and folk tales from the early 20th century (there has never been a more beautifully creepy and morosely slinky take on ‘Jack of Diamonds’).
When you boil it all down in a simmering cauldron, Nothin’ But Blood is storytelling about wrongdoing and redemption. Scott H. Biram’s music is from the soul, for the soul, of the soul — and with this album, the spiritual buckshot lodges deeper than ever.