It's hard to describe The Devil Makes Three.
With roots in both California and Vermont, it's almost as hard to nail down a home base for the trio as it is to put a label on the group's music or categorize it in any specific musical genre. Call it an American band with a modern interpretation of ... well ... vintage Americana.
This three-piece string band has been writing, recording and touring for more than a decade, but has kept a relatively low profile through honest grassroots growth.
The Devil Makes Three
The band made a stop last week at Mr. Small's in Pittsburgh in support of its new studio album "I'm a Stranger Here," which was released just two weeks prior to the show. Those in attendance were no strangers to The Devil Makes Three. Most of the people in the diverse crowd were part of a growing fan base that knows every song by heart, including tunes that only have been available to the public for two short weeks.
"I think this is the biggest show we've had here in Pittsburgh," frontman Pete Bernhard told the capacity crowd, which was treated to a healthy dose of songs from the group's four distinctly different but each individually stellar studio releases.
Armed with just an acoustic guitar or two, an upright bass and oftentimes an accompanying banjo, the stripped-down band delivers a heavy-hitting arsenal of infectious music that is propelled by the sheer strength of its songs. As lead vocalist and principal songwriter, Berhard pens songs that don't just tell stories, they paint vivid scenes and capture stark moods with a powerful and cleverly poetic precision.
While many of The Devil Makes Three's tunes are generally upbeat, the tales they weave can shift from happy-go-lucky ("Beneath the Piano") to reflective ("A Moment's Rest") and from outright witty ("For Good Again") to captivatingly somber ("Graveyard"). Themes and subject matter of the songs range from anecdotes about the trials of a traveling band's life on the road to fictitious tales of tribulation and loss on a cold, black, 1,000-mile deep ocean. The songs can draw in the listener so effectively that even those tunes with the most sullen themes are so brilliantly crafted, they leave fans grinning ear-to-ear.
In fact, the dark undertones that lace the music of The Devil Makes Three are arguably a key part of their appeal. A lot of young bands in recent years have rediscovered the charm of traditional bluegrass, folk and old-time country music, and many have given these genres a new life with a modern relevance. But few others - if any -have injected such a snarling swagger and panache into the sound of a strictly acoustic group.
Skilled vocal harmonies provide a vital component for the stripped-down format of Bernhard on acoustic and slide mini acoustic guitar, Cooper McBean on guitar and tenor banjo, and Lucia Turino on upright bass. Turino writhes to the rhythm while playing the upright, and McBean's stage presence simply embodies the character of the band. He recently shaved his long beard and hair to go with a more refined look, sporting a sharp button-up vest and necktie that somehow perfectly complemented the tattooes covering him from the backs of his fingers, up his arms and all the way up his neck.
It would be hard to imagine hippies, hipsters, old-timers and even metal heads gathered around an antique Victrola clapping and dancing together like there's no tomorrow. But that's kind of what The Devil Makes Three delivers -a wide-reaching appeal for a new and exciting twist on a old-fashioned formula.
It's high-octane ragtime fueled on whiskey and venom, and if you haven't heard it, you should treat yourself. It just may restore your faith in true American songwriting.
For more information about The Devil Makes Three, visit www.thedevilmakesthree.com and watch for the band's video for "Stranger" which debuted last week on CMT.com.