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Kexp Presents: The Devil Makes Three Live in Studio - EP

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Album Review

The Devil Makes Three have been setting the San Francisco Bay Area ablaze with their hyper driven version of old-time music. The trio's sound combines bluegrass, primitive country music, folk, rockabilly, Piedmont blues, and ragtime, played with a blazing post-punk attack. They don't have a drummer, but when Cooper McBean's percussive rhythm guitar accents and Lucia Turino's crackling slap-hand bass kick in, they supply a pounding four on the floor that drives the band as hard as any drummer might. Guitarist, lead singer, and chief songwriter Pete Bernhard completes the trio with vocals that are as rhythmic as they are melodic, a bluesy, jazzy style that's part Cab Calloway, part Ralph Stanley, part Blind Willie McTell. This eponymous debut was put out by the Devil Makes Three on their own Monkey Wrench label in 2002 and more recently picked up for national distribution by Milan, a label planning to pitch the trio's songs to filmmakers and television show producers looking for music with a folksy, rootsy feel. The songs on The Devil Makes Three are the backbone of the band's live shows, marked by impressive energy, mordant humor, and timeless lyrics. The remastering makes the instruments crackle and pop, and pushes the vocals a bit more up front. The Devil Makes Three inhabit a hardscrabble working-class world full of problem drinkers, tellers of tall tales, pirates, and troublemakers, but they deliver their desperate parables with a charming deadpan wit. "The Plank" is rollicking sea shanty that has the bandmembers watching their enemies walk the plank. "Graveyard" is a bleary waltz rife with images of shipwrecks, broken dreams, booze, and delirium tremens. The ragtime bounce of "Shades" is a portrait of a good-time girl and her beau, who are usually drunk by noon. "Chained to the Couch" mines the same territory. It's a syncopated blues that examines the life of an aging alcoholic looking back on his life with a so much regret that he's immobilized. "The Bullet" is a macabre cowboy ballad that dances on the edge of the grave with a smirk on its face, dreaming of the bullet that will bring sweet relief. The one spark of light is "For My Family," a beautiful prayer for good times, full of compassion and love. The four bonus tracks on the reissue, all recorded around the same time as the album, are as good as the original tracks. "Nobody's Dirty Business" is a ragtime arrangement of a Mississippi John Hurt tune driven by Turino's forceful bass; "Dynamite" is a bad-man ballad full of the band's trademark dark humor; and two live tracks close the album — "Ocean's Cold" is a celebration of debauchery with an unnamed drummer adding to its frenetic energy, while "Fun Has Just Begun" describes the blood and confusion of a battlefield with a chilling devil-may-care humor. ~ j. poet, Rovi


Formed: 2002 in Santa Cruz, CA

Genre: Country

Years Active: '00s, '10s

As a drummerless acoustic trio consisting of two guitarists and a string bassist, the Devil Makes Three are not your normal alt-country band. While deeply rooted in the blues and country music, they enthusiastically incorporate elements of bluegrass, ragtime, and jug band traditions as well. The group also makes no bones about its punk rock influences, and despite the lack of a drummer, it always plays with the needs of dancers in mind. Although the Devil Makes Three consist entirely of New Englanders...
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