The Devil Makes Three – I’m a Stranger Here
“I’m A Stranger Here,” the fourth studio album by American roots trio The Devil Makes Three, is scheduled for an October 29, 2013 release on New West Records. On this ten-song record The Devil Makes Three give more of the bluegrass, ragtime, country, and rockabilly sound that has earned them a considerable fan base in recent years. Although The Devil Makes Three released a live album in 2011, “Stomp and Smash,” “I’m A Stranger Here” is actually the follow-up the band’s very well received 2009 album “Do Wrong Right.” And for this one they have changed record labels from Milan to New West, who will soon be making the album available on all three preferred formats, CD, LP, and digital download.
If, like me, you have been following The Devil Makes Three for the last six years or so, you well know their sound, from Pete Bernhard’s rhythmic acoustic strumming and vocals which are a combination of folk singer and country crooner, to Cooper McBean’s banjo pickin’, to Lucia Turino’s upright plucking and thumping. In addition to these vital elements, The Devil Makes Three have worked fiddle, horns, stomp percussion, and other such instrumentation into the new material. To be sure, this only serves to enhance the overall quality of the compositions on “I’m A Stranger Here.” And while “Do Wrong Right” was heavily ragtime and pre-war blues influenced, “I’m A Stranger Here” shows another side to the trio’s sound and sheds some of its previous sound components to provide a well-produced yet slightly different musical side. Still, they are the sort of well-conceived and even better executed musical composition in which the rapt listener is able to hear every tiny nuance of sound; nothing is neglected; nothing escapes the ear, not a note nor chord, not a bit of bowing on the fiddle nor the blowing of the horn, not the smallest percussion combination nor the most subtle expressive inflection in the vocal delivery. A fact which proves that we haven’t even heard a fraction of what this band has to offer. More likely, we have only just scratched the surface.
As far as lyrical content, Bernhard stays true to much of what he has already sung about, and brings even more to the table. Wanderlust, old-time religion, biblical events, booze, crime, exorcizing personal demons, hardship, work, death, and many and varied life things to which the average listener and roots enthusiast can easily relate. And his vocal delivery certainly draws the appropriate attention to each.
It was in 2007—shortly after the re-release of the band’s self-titled debut on Milan Records—that I became a fervent Devil Makes Three fan. Songs like The Plank, Old Number Seven, Beneath the Piano, and Chained to the Couch caught hold of me and wouldn’t let go. And to hook me yet further to their music, The Devil Makes Three released “Do Wrong Right,” with songs like All Hail, the title track Do Wrong Right, Gracefully Facedown, and For Good Again. Of course, being the classic literature nut that I am, it didn’t hurt that the band included a rendering of hobo drifter and criminal Jack Black on the “Do Wrong Right” album cover. The Devil Makes Three even wrote and recorded a song about the unconventional society of homeless ramblers of the time, referred to back then as the Johnson Family, mentioned in Jack Black’s autobiographical book “You Can’t Win.” In fact, it is that period of musical history from which The Devil Makes Three evidently derive much of the inspiration for their songs. The early 1900s; a time of career criminals, conmen, road wanderers, train-hopping vagrants, seedy barrooms, drowsy hop houses, jails, jailbreaks, infinitely cool nicknames, Johnson Family members huddled around a fire under an old bridge and passing a bottle of rotgut back and forth. The good old days, it would seem.
In recent years both Pete Bernhard and Lucia Turino left Santa Cruz, California to return to their native Vermont, while Cooper McBean remained. And the circumstances surrounding these significant life changes undoubted made their marks on these new songs. Even the title “I’m A Stranger Here” is presumably indicative of them as well. Between lively pickers like Stranger, Worse or Better, Hallelu, and Dead Body Moving, to mid-tempo strum n’ stomp tunes like Forty Days, Hand Back Down, Spinning Like A Top, and Mr. Midnight, to slow folky pieces like A Moment’s Rest and Goodbye Old Friend, “I’m A Stranger Here” will undoubtedly be as immediately well-received and long-appreciated as The Devil Makes Three’s other three studio full-length albums.
This has been quite the fall season for great album releases. First there was Possessed by Paul James with “There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely” on Hillgrass Bluebilly Records. Then the independently released “This Guitar” by David Dondero, The Tillers’ “Hand on the Plow on Muddy Roots Music, GravelRoad’s “The Bloody Scalp of Burt Merlin” on Knick Knack Records, the self-released album “We Are Not Lost” by The Show Ponies, and Andrew Jackson Jihad’s “Live at the Crescent Ballroom” on Asian Man Records. And now we have new The Devil Makes Three album titled “I’m A Stranger Here” on New West Records. What an outstanding way to close out the fall season releases.