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The Devil Makes Three

Redemption & Ruin – 2016 (New West)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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Charles Baudelaire and Verbal Kint separately and astutely noted that the devil's greatest trick is in convincing the world that he doesn't exist. There could be a corollary concerning the reality of The Devil Makes Three; the trio exists in so many different musical forms that they may well have talked us into believing they're a dozen distinct bands when they are in fact just one single, extraordinarily talented unit.

Over the past 14 years, The Devil Makes Three has released four studio albums and two live sets, all exhibiting the same general blueprint, essentially an amazing sonic gumbo consisting of every significant form of American music filtered through DM3's unique perspective and skill set. The California threesome's "Redemption & Ruin" is that same formula written in beautifully scrolled calligraphy and spray painted crudely on an alley wall. As indicated by the title, "Redemption & Ruin" is a tale of two themes, the fun and misery that can result from being paid the minimum wages of sin and the satisfaction derived from following the glory path.

Across the 10 tracks, guitarist Pete Bernhard, upright bassist Lucia Turino and guitarist/banjoist Cooper McBean explore these disparate yet intimately connected themes by way of a mash-up of blues ("Drunken Hearted Man," "Champagne and Reefer"), hot jazz ("I'm Gonna Get High"), gospel ("I Am the Man Thomas"), straight up bluegrass ("I Gotta Get Drunk") and dark combinations of the above ("Chase the Feeling," "Waiting Around to Die").

If the lyrical wisdom of "Redemption & Ruin" seems more than a little familiar, it's because DM3 has cherry picked the best of their favorite influences - Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits, Ralph Stanley and Kris Kristofferson, among others - and covered them here. Throw in a guest list that includes Emmylou Harris, Tim O'Brien, Jerry Douglas and Duane Eddy, and The Devil Makes Three's blending of two iffy thematic ideas on "Redemption & Ruin" - the covers album and the concept album - results in one of the best works in their esteemed catalog.