Listenin’ to Santa Cruz’s The Devil Makes Three is a little like wanderin’ in the got-damn desert and coming across a got-damn rattlesnake: there’s only whiskey to drink and your six-shooter’s only got one got-damn bullet left. You been savin’ it, too, considerin’ your partner’s been givin’ you the stink-eye.
The Devil Makes Three would in nature be a trio, with guitarist and frontman Pete Bernhard leadin’ the way. He’s joined by upright bassist Lucia Turino and guitarist Cooper McBean. Their punkish loom to American blues, bluegrass, country, and folk music is couched in a concrete rhythmic sense even with the lack of a drummer.
Their latest record, Do Wrong Right, unearths riches of moonshine-drinkin’, tobacco-spittin’ songs worth humming along to on your way to stake your claim. These are songs for the workin’ man (or woman, ‘course). The tunes rumble with yarns of drinkin’, fightin’, lovin’, and losin’. Bolstered by a simple style and honest playing, The Devil Makes Three most likely knocked that got-damn mashed-tater eatin' motherfucker Billy Bob off’n his horse a ways back.
Stacks of comparisons ain’t gonna do this trio any fair dealin’, though it is easy to see where some get the thought that The Devil Makes Three takes a few influences from The Violent Femmes or Steve Earle or other such bandits. Still, there’s a sound all their own here and you’ll be pressed to find a band playin’ with more honesty right now.
Sweet pluck-and-strum rhythm forms the surroundings for “All Hail,” Do Wrong Right’s fun opening track. Bernhard rocks the frontman position, joined with vocal harmonies from his accomplices.
“If you’re gonna do wrong, buddy, do wrong right,” Bernhard gleefully suggests on the record’s title track. When you’re in it up to your elbows, you might as well make the most of it and The Devil Makes Three sure as hell knows this philosophy well. Throwin’ caution to the wind, the band knocks out a helluva hoedown song and “makes a little mess” in the course of it.
The working man gets his due with the gritty, haunting “Working Man’s Blues.” “I want what’s mine and not what’s his,” Bernhard sings over a faint campfire. “When it comes to tobacco it’s each man’s own,” he concludes before spittin’ a black gob into the darkened dirt. Harmonica punctuates the track like wolves howlin’ in the night for their next meal.
The Devil Makes Three ain’t tryin’ to change the got-damn world and they ain’t tryin’ to change your got-damn mind, neither. This is easy, hard-workin’ music for easy, hard-workin’ folk. For those days when you’re dead beat from the dust getting’ in your eyes and your partner lookin’ at you sidelong, save your one bullet and mind the rattlesnake. If you got to got-damn do it, Do Wrong Right.