Album Review: The Devil Makes Three – Do Wrong Right
Physicist Sir Isaac Newton famously determined that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. While Newton was referring to the way physical objects interact with each other, bluegrass/rockabilly/juke/country trio The Devil Makes Three takes that third law of motion to heart on its fourth album: For each humorous song about partying and playboys, TDMT examines the relationship those actions have with preaching and praying and walks the fine line that separates sinners and saints.
For such a centuries-old sentiment, guitarist and front man Pete Bernhard, stand-up bassist Lucia Turino and guitarist Cooper McBean manage to reinvent the devil-on-your-right shoulder, angel-on-your-left routine despite their harmonica and banjo-fueled old-timey aesthetic. Despite its lack of drummer, TDMT’s driving rhythms—best featured on Allman Brothers cover “Statesboro Blues”—serve as the power engine that pulls listeners from beginning to end. The tireless trio plays for its soul without any sort of challenge from a “Devil Went Down to Georgia”-type antagonist, and its “thinking hillbilly’s” lyrics are a welcome respite from more stereotypical stories of love and life.
The principles of wrong and right that dominate the majority of songs on the fittingly titled Do Wrong Right especially seep into its title track and “All Hail,” the album opener that benefits from a rare electric guitar section and sets a tongue-in-cheek tone for the rest of the album: “Laugh if you want to, really it is kind of funny/The world is a car/And you’re the crash test dummy.”
For every good-time anthem like “Gracefully Facedown,” a humorous addition to the long line of country music’s infamous drinking songs, there’s a tune like “Help Yourself,” a probing look and sneering elbow jab at spoon-fed religion. Good and bad actions of the opposite sex also figure into the progression of the album. In the oxymoronic “For Good Again,” a potential love match is described in a hilarious way that greatly contrasts the group’s rural sound: “You wouldn’t believe the things that my friend Eric put us through/He had a PowerPoint presentation about this girl he wanted to do.”
Where Do Wrong Right itself can go wrong is largely due to TDMT’s perfection of its old-timey sound: “Working Man’s Blues” and “Johnson Family,” a plodding Eastern European waltz, sound straight off the airwaves of a Great Depression-era radio broadcast, with little to distinguish them as modern nods to the era. The weaknesses of these two songs are representative of the rut the band slips into when it loses the humor and energy of its better efforts; the trio has noted in interviews that its live shows sometimes don’t translate through speakers and earphones, and that’s especially true on the album’s more monotonous tracks.
Country music and TDMT’s unique brand of punk once shared a common thread of bucking The Man, but the mainstream country genre has shifted greatly since the days of the Outlaws. Although “Car Wreck,” a stripped-down ramblin’ song delivered by Bernhard like a hung-over version of Ronnie Milsap with a cold, is the most mainstream number on the album, TDMK remains a square peg that doesn’t come anywhere near the round hole of today’s definition of country music.
While it ain’t your grandmother’s bluegrass music, fans of Old Crowe Medicine Show and The Avett Brothers will enjoy Do Wrong Right’s strong fusion of acoustic hipster and hickster sensibilities.
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