Punk Rag Trio Burns the Barn with Buddy
New from New West Records and produced by legendary guitarist and songwriter Buddy Miller, I’m A Stranger Here from The Devil Makes Three is a loose and lively ragtime bluegrass romp. Stranger features ten well-crafted, high energy tracks that meld old time Americana genres, humor, irony and storytelling. The drummer-less trio is known for their raucous live shows, especially after the release of a live recording called Stomp and Smash in 2011, and the tastefully light-handed production on this record allows the band to maintain that identity. From start to finish, I’m A Stranger Here is sure to present the long-touring trio to a much larger audience.
The title track “Stranger” starts off with ominous, circling, “devil-at-the-crossroad” harmonies. Upright bassist Lucia Torino rocks the bottom while she carries high harmonies over the top. Banjo player Cooper McBean has a percussive, strumming style that adds to the drive. The lyrics, too, are rhythmic and impassioned. In “Hallelu,” a revival rocker mocking American religion and all its violent contradictions, singer and songwriter Pete Bernhard sings, “Hallelu, Hallelu, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition too / They say Jesus is comin’, he must be walkin’, / He sure ain’t runnin’, who could blame him / Look how we done him, Hallelu.” To continue, “Forty Days” features a ragtime chorus of horns provided the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. “Goodbye Old Friends” has a lullaby waltz and some nice reverb on the vocals.
“Hard Back Down” professes to “feelin’ a little rough around the edges now”– that’s how the whole record feels, but in the greatest possible way. Miller’s production allows the band to feel alive. It’s not easy to find a balance where the band maintains their live identity while getting everything tight and polished in the studio. The Devil Makes Three have not succeeded in that before now. On some of the faster tracks, the tempo has a natural push and it’s great to see that that wasn’t quantized out in post-production. The kick drum is loose and thumping, and it really sounds like you’re down by the river in a shanty shack with the band. Miller tastefully adds accompaniment where necessary but lets the band stand on their own in other moments, which lends itself to a dramatic and dynamic record. With I’m A Stranger Here, Buddy and the band find that sweet spot.