It’s nothing unusual for artists to make cover-song albums that feature tunes paying tribute to the music that shaped their sound.
But “Redemption & Ruin,” the new album by The Devil Makes Three, takes that idea to a new level. Not just a tribute or covers album, it’s also a theme album with one batch of songs built around the idea of “Ruin” and the other about “Redemption.”
This added a layer of difficulty to the project that the three band members perhaps didn’t anticipate, said guitarist/singer Pete Bernhard.
“We were trying to not only find a song we liked and felt was a big influence on our sound, but also to fit on either the ‘Redemption’ or the ‘Ruin’ side of the record,” he said in a late-September phone interview.
“I think in a way we sort of bit off a little more than we could chew.”
In the end, Bernhard and his bandmates, banjo player/multi-instrumentalist Cooper McBean and bassist Lucia Turino, stepped up to the plate and emerged with “Redemption & Ruin,” an album that lives up to the multifaceted goals they set for the project.
One primary goal was to honor the American music that influenced them the most.
“We really wanted to touch on all of the (traditions) because in The Devil Makes Three, we have, we’re influenced by blues, jazz, Dixieland, Western swing, like sort of gypsy jazz and the French swing thing, too,” Bernhard said. “All the way from blues to jazz and rock ’n’ roll is in the story of our band. So we really wanted to get all the way up to modern times, but start way back (in time).”
To that end, “Redemption & Ruin” includes inspired versions of songs by blues greats Muddy Waters (an edgy take on “Champagne and Reefer”) and Robert Johnson (a lively bluegrass-ish take on “Drunken Hearted Man”) and folk legends Tampa Red (the Dixieland feel of “I’m Gonna Get High”) and Townes Van Zandt (a mournful version of “Waiting Around To Die”). They draw in country icon Hank Williams (the solemn “Angel of Death”), gospel artists such as the Sunset Jubilee Singers (the twangy and celebratory “There’ll Be A Jubilee”) and Tom Waits (a perky country/gospel rendition of “Come On Up To The House”).
Lyrically, the album’s contrasting themes reflect the long tradition of telling hard-luck stories and tales of overcoming life’s troubles and emerging stronger than ever. The gospel element that’s woven into the album, particularly on the “Redemption” side, was a facet the group especially wanted to represent.
“We always loved gospel music, but we’re not really deeply religious people or anything like that so it felt like a full gospel album wasn’t really right,” Bernhard said. “But it has been a big influence on our sound. So we definitely wanted to showcase it.”
Friends since middle school, Bernhard and McBean grew up in Brattleboro, Vt., and bonded over their shared love of blues, folk, jazz and other American forms of music. The current incarnation of The Devil Makes Three came together in 2002, when they met up with Turino, a friend from high school, in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Early on, the group was purely a do-it-yourself act, self-releasing its first two albums before label deals, first with Milan Records and now with New West Records, helped build a sizable audience that looks poised to grow further with the release of “Redemption & Ruin.”
Consistent touring is another secret to the group’s success, and The Devil Makes Three now hits the road to promote the new album. You can hear them in Boise on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the Knitting Factory.
Fans can expect a wide-ranging set of music, including some older tracks and three new songs that represent the start of their next record.
The Devil Makes Three
8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12, Knitting Factory, 416 S. 9th St., Boise. $20. TicketWeb. $25 day of show. Opening: Lost Dog Street Band.