“Rhythm & Reason” by Bhi Bhiman
Rhythm & Reason
Even without the goofy, Whiplash-parodying video, “Moving to Brussels” deserves to be Bhi Bhiman’s breakthrough. Armed with a “love it and leave it” ethos, the exuberant retro soul song is both a party starter and a sly dig at jingoism. The San Francisco balladeer excels at deploying this “get down, get funky, but stay woke” M.O. throughout his third album, Rhythm & Reason. Bhiman’s astute musicality grows even more endearing when he laces it with smart (and smart-ass) commentary.
On first listen, the bitter narrator on the reggae-flavored “There Goes the Neighborhood” sounds like Archie Bunker, but he could just as easily be an opportunistic developer. “Bread and Butter” features guitars so rollicking that it’s easy to miss biting remarks like “Lady Marmalade that tart she owes me money.” “Up in Arms” is a chilling folk number sung from the perspective of Black Panther co-founder Huey Newton, not during his subversive heyday, but during his hazy final days. This segues brilliantly into “Death Song,” starring a world weary grim reaper and a tromping gangsta rap gone vaudeville beat. “Waterboarded (In Love)” barges in like the jook joint/gospel mashup at the climax of The Color Purple.
Clearly Bhi Bhiman is not courting controversy so much as he is turning “too soon?” sensitivity on its ear. Unlike self-important “message records” by pick-up artists in revolutionaries’ clothing, Rhythm & Reason gets deeper the closer one pays attention to the words.