DEVIL MAKES THREE Do Wrong Right (Milan)
When you live in a tiny tropical island in the midst of the Malay Archipelago, the stretched out parched valleys of the old westerns seem awfully far away. Put on Do Wrong Right, though, the latest release from Santa Cruz three-man outfit The Devil Makes Three, and one is guaranteed to be instantly transported to the dusty cracked deserts of old-time America, where men who speak in gruff whiskey splinters break with their tough-guy image and invite you to join in their raucous cowpunk country romps.
The band, consisting of Pete Bernhard on guitar and vocals, Cooper McBean on guitar and banjo, and Lucia Turino on stand-up bass, is an anomaly and anachronism in today’s age of Autotuned radio, but what a delightful anachronism they are. The youth of today, born and bred on a mixture of grunge, punk rock, indie and R&B music might find themselves baffled at first listen, but closer inspection will reveal that The Devil Makes Three is just as thoroughly punk rock as anything on radio today. Simply substitute furious distorted guitars for pluck and strum acoustics, crashing drums for a stand-up bass and half-shouted singing for a warm southern drawl, and hey presto! A hillbilly punk wielding a banjo with a wicked glint in his eye and mayhem on his mind.
The record opens with All Hail, an energetic chugging rhythmic number topped off with fiddle and banjo flourishes that nonetheless manages to name-drop contemporary terms in a odd juxtaposition that works brilliantly, and sets the tone for the rest of the record. The title track is a gleeful exhortation to screw up gloriously and a tribute to the devil-may-care attitude of the old times, as is Gracefully Facedown, a drinking song updated for modern times. For Good Again is an utterly charming number that narrates the tale of a band struggling to overcome their own inertia, with laugh out loud lines like, “We drank and we threw up, sometimes we practiced and played, our drummer couldn’t figure out whether he was straight or he was gay.”
The record hits a small road bump on Johnson Family, a track that, with its European influences, sounds oddly out of place amidst all the Americana. Thankfully that road bump doesn’t last beyond one track. Help Yourself channels the good sense and sensibility of the common folk and snippets of biblical narrative into the simple reminder that “the Lord helps those who helps themselves”. The Devil Makes Three continues to reflect the sentiment of the people into Working Class Blues, a song that, with its apocalyptic streaks of howling harmonica, updates the protest song from the Great Depression into the 21st century’s own Great Recession. The somberness continues in shades until the album closer, Car Wreck, a mournful, pensive track that ends the album with a stirring reminder of the times we live in.
One will need some time to slip into and out of the charming oddball record that is Do Wrong Right, but the band should be applauded for having made old time country music relevant in this technological day and digital age. Impish, infectious, and sorrowful by turns, The Devil Makes Three reminds us that heart and soul is timeless and that good music speaks past genres and decades.
(Samuel C Wee)
Check out Devil Makes Three’s Myspace page.