Album Review: The Devil Makes Three – Do Wrong Right

Karlie Justus Marlowe | June 22nd, 2009

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.

4 Stars

  1. Rick
    June 22, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Karlie, it seems folks are only interested in this group if they can win a free CD! The least Stormy and Lanibug can do is say something nice about this group here on this topic thread (even though they likely haven’t received their prize CDs yet). (lol)

    Hey, how about a review of the recent release from The Belleville Outfit “Time To Stand”? I’d promise to post a comment about that one! Maybe you could even compare and contrast that album to “Do Right Wrong” to build reader interest! (lol)

  2. Jim Malec
    June 23, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I think this is an outstanding review, Karlie. And it’s well read, even if people aren’t commenting. Great work.

  3. Leeann Ward
    June 23, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I second that. I meant to comment, but I figured I’d sound like a broken record, as I’ve commented on this album/group a lot lately on other threads here and other blogs. This is an excellent review in its own right though.

  4. Trailer
    July 7, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    Fantastic review of a fantastic album.

  5. Jon
    July 7, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    ““Working Man’s Blues” and “Johnson Family,” a plodding Eastern European waltz, sound straight off the airwaves of a Great Depression-era radio broadcast…”

    Not to anyone with more than a nodding acquaintance with Depression-era country music, they don’t. And not only ain’t this album your grandmother’s kind of bluegrass, it ain’t any kind of bluegrass (or old-time country music). It pretty much sounds just like what it is – one of a long line of albums made by folks with only the most superficial grasp of what old-time country music was and is really like, and who think that being sloppy means sounding authentic – if that’s even what they’re going for, which I think (and certainly hope) it’s not. It’s another variety of country music for people who don’t actually like country music, only this time coming from a place that’s congenial to a certain kind of – as Karli puts it – hipster and hickster sensibility.

    Sorry, I had managed to resist commenting before, and I think this is a reasonably well-written review, but in this respect it is, in my opinion, way off target.

  6. Jon
    July 8, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Karlie, not Karli – sorry about that.

  7. Paul W Dennis
    July 30, 2009 at 5:45 am

    It’s a good album, would rate higher than four stars if the lead vocalist were a better singer. I think Karlie is spot on with her review.

    I suspect that this CD will find more play on college radio stations than anywhere else (except on NPR stations in the Carolinas and maybe elsewhere)

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