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The Devil Makes Three push bluegrass envelope

Middle East, Cambridge, Mass., June 11, 2009

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The Devil Makes Three has one of the top selling bluegrass albums in the U.S. with "Do Wrong Right," but don't expect them on stage any time soon with the traditionalists of bluegrass like Rhonda Vincent.

In fact, it's not a bluegrass crowd that seems into this California-based punky, edgy, bluegrass-based band. Instead, based on almost a few hundred that packed into the club, The Devil Makes Three makes music for those who like to move and shake to rough-hewn vocals with a fast beat. When you take a look at the trio, that may not be a surprise from outward appearances. Lead vocalist/acoustic guitarist Peter Bernhard and guitarist/sometime lead vocalist Cooper McBean have a good amount of tattoos on their arms, indicating this is not dyed-in-the-wool bluegrass. Other musical genres (the punky feel) enter into the sound as well.

Bernhard's vocals mesh well with the material. He doesn't own the smoothest voice going, but it certainly worked well with the music. Upright bassist Lucia Turino maintained a steady beat underneath. At times, Bernhard, McBean and Turino engaged in three-part harmonies. Much like the rest of the songs played during their 50-minute set, Old Number 7 had a bouncy and lively feel without any let up.

The Devil Makes Three may not be your father's bluegrass. Closing the set with Help Yourself, a song from the new disc about Jesus makes that crystal clear with the line "I've done some bad things, but I like to have my fun." They certainly push the envelope, but they do a very good job of it.

The cutely named Trampled by Turtles from Duluth, Minn. ended the evening with a shot of more traditional bluegrass, although with edge also.

Curiously, the quintet sat on chairs almost the entire time, but you had the feeling that they were ready to jump out of them and move to the music at any time. Finally, on Stranger, fiddle player Ryan Young could hold off no longer.

While Bernhard proved to be a more enticing lead vocalist than Trampled's Dave Simonett, this was a band of capable musicians in a close to an evening of bluegrass that may have strayed from its roots. It may not be music for all bluegrass fans, but that doesn't mean it wasn't real good.