Kerville’s Konrad Wert, aka Possessed by Paul James, and Scott H. Biram from Austin are two fellas who both know how to single-handedly command a crowd’s attention. Channeling the spirits and sins of old bluesmen and front-porch pickers from a time long ago, Wert and Biram travel divergent paths once they claim their respective solo-seat on a given stage, whether it’s in Europe, where they have loyal followings, or here in their home state of Texas.
In the case of either artist, an obvious transformation takes place once each of them begin their live performance. Where they both come off as congenial and easy-going off of the stage, mingling and casually chatting with fans, the downbeat seems to awaken a focused and captivating busker that isn’t performing for tips, but for the roars and yelps of whole-hearted crowd approval.
Wert’s stage name says it all, really – possessed. The spirit that is ensconced within Wert’s performance fully reveals itself through the rhythmic jerking motions he makes with his neck and head as he bounces his boot on the home made stomp-box that provides a percussive urgency to each song. Switching effortlessly from fiddle to guitar to banjo, Wert’s rustic armory of instruments are key elements to his performance, of course, but those are nowhere near as imperative as the sheer mojo that Wert emanates into the audience. While PPJ’s latest full length record, Cold & Blind may not possess the same electricity that only a stellar live show can provide, the album does features sparse, raw-boned and memorable tales of love gone really wrong. PPJ’s stark poetry, just like his live show, cuts a direct path into the transcendent powers of music at it’s finest.
Where Possessed by Paul James resides on the folk and bluegrass end of the American roots sonic spectrum, Austin’s Scott H. Biram mines the dark yet fertile end where the dirty blues lay so low. At times crude, Biram is always colorful, that is if an opaque melange of pain, crazy cheap whiskey and river mud is a color. With song titles such as “Blood, Sweat and Murder”, “Hospital Escape”, and “Plow You Under”, one can easily deduce that Biram isn’t here to peddle a cuddly version of the blues that would likely land him on VH1′s Top 20 Countdown anytime soon. As with PPJ, Biram is at his best in a solo live-setting. Distorted, grumbling vocals and his blazing electric guitar that shreds each note fill the room with an abrasive wave of sound. At a recent Biram show in Dallas, I witnessed people turning to their companion and asking in amazed admiration, “Who is this guy? This is insane!”. Biram’s recent release, Something’s Wrong / Lost Forever is perhaps his most accessible work to date yet maintains the grit, spit and general badness that has made Biram such a singular figure for many years now.
Possessed by Paul James and Scott H. Biram are two different solo-artists who are able to effectively fill a stage with not only their sound but with a frenzy that band mates would only serve to get in the way of. Where Zach Galifianakis’s character in The Hangover was once a wolf-pack of one, he only thrived when he became part of a larger wolf-pack in the Sin City night. Hopefully, these two will never have such longings, as they thrive quite nicely all by themselves.
Listen to Possessed by Paul James’ Myspace
Listen to Scott H. Biram
Kelly Dearmore is a freelance writer, mean pot of chili maker and opinionated music lover. To read more about what Kelly is listening to, visit him here on The Squawker weekly or daily on his personal music blog, The Gobblers Knob.