Bhi Bhiman is an American original, and yet he seems transported from an era when songs were more important than the pretty faces that delivered them. His rich, bellowing tenor can soothe or explode at a moment’s notice. His lived-in, knowing delivery belies his years. His songwriting, too, is quick to captivate. Bhi’s mix of humor and deep empathy puts him in the company of distinguished (and much older) lifelong songsmiths like John Prine, Nick Lowe and Randy Newman. And Bhiman’s technical, emotive guitar playing rises to the challenge that his striking voice presents.
It’s fitting, then, that there truly is–as far as anyone can tell–only one Bhi Bhiman. His parents, emigrants from Sri Lanka, named the songwriter after Bhima, a central character in an ancient Indian text called The Mahabharata. But Bhiman’s own American experience was markedly less exotic than his name would imply–he came of age in the ’90s in St. Louis, reared on Soundgarden and Nirvana, and later relocated to the Bay Area, where he lives today. Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder may have first inspired him to write songs, but Bhiman’s approach–comical, curious, whip-smart–remains wholly unique. As a songwriter, Bhi consistently exceeds the expectations that should rightly rest on the shoulders of a well-adjusted twenty-something: He can inhabit any number of disparate characters and make them his own.