The Devil Makes Three – “Redemption & Ruin” (2016)

I’m not exactly sure when we discovered The Devil Makes Three (DM3), but it was sometime between the release of their self-titled LP (2007) and Do Wrong Right (2009).  Since that time we’ve seen them live about 7-8 times, most recently crossing an item off of our musical bucket list by catching them at Colorado’s Red Rocks Ampitheatre earlier this year.  Every show has been fantastic, but this one was particularly interesting in that they played a ton of “new” material off of their then soon-to-be-released album Redemption & Ruin.  I put new in quotes because Redemption & Ruin is also kind of unique in that the entire album consists of covers of musicians who influenced DM3.

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But just knowing Redemption & Ruin is a covers album doesn’t tell the whole story.  It’s actually broken down into two distinct parts – one side of the album is songs about redemption, which tend to be more religious in nature, while the other side is about ruin – stories of drinking, cocaine, abuse, abandonment, and morphine.  DM3’s sources run the gamut from Muddy Waters to Willie Nelson to Kris Kristofferson to Townes Van Zandt.  Blues… Country… Bluegrass… Traditional… Gospel… it all comes together in two intriguing sides of music that mirror the two extremes of the human condition.  It doesn’t take long to pick up the influence the Redemption & Ruin songs have on the DM3 – “Drunken Hearted Man” harkens to the Do Wrong Right track “Aces and Twos,” while “I Gotta Get Drunk” reminds me more than a little of “Gracefully Facedown.”  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like DM3 is copying these songs; but you can feel the influences seeping out of the originals.

My tastes are heavily weighted towards the “Ruin” half of the album (side A on the vinyl), songs about na’er-do-wells and addicts.  Like so many of the questionable characters who inhabit DM3’s songs, those on Redemption & Ruin aren’t necessarily bad people (though some certainly are), but more lost souls.  Cooper McBean gets to move to the lead vocalist spot a couple of times on Side A, most notably on the brilliant “Chase the Feeling” (originally by Kris Kristofferson):

You got loaded again,
Ain’t you handsome when you’re high.
Nothing matters,
Chase that feelin’ ’til you die.

DM3 keeps the song painfully slow and McBean brings his voice down to lower than his normal register to maintain the darkness, allowing Lucia Turino’s backing vocals to take the high space and give the entire thing an otherworldly feel.

The real gem is Town Van Zandt’s “Waiting Around to Die,” a song I vividly remember from DM3’s Red Rocks show for it’s pure emotional power and weight.  It’s not the typical DM3 sound, way slower than they typically play (especially live) and it feels like listening to a dream, or more accurately a nightmare.  Emmylou Harris makes an appearance doing backing vocals, giving it a bit more of a country feel and a touch of sadness that can only come from maturity.

Side B brings us “Redemption”… and though I’m generally not one for gospel and spirituals, once again the influence these musicians have had on DM3 is abundantly clear.  “Down In the Valley” is probably my favorite on this side, a more uptempo number that sounds like it could easily be a DM3 original.

While I’m anxious for some new material from DM3, my general unfamiliarity with the classics of these genres means that Redemption & Ruin is still fresh-sounding to my ears, and the songs fit in well with DM3’s overall style.  In a bizarre occurrence for Life in the Vinyl Lane, I didn’t buy Redemption & Ruin on vinyl… nor on CD; I actually bought it online from the Apple Store for a meagre $5.99 a few nights ago.  I’m not sure why I never got around to pre-ordering the vinyl, but I didn’t, and I simply felt the urge to hear it immediately (whiskey was involved), and there it was.  But regardless of the format, I strongly recommend Redemption & Ruin, just as I do most other DM3 albums.  And if you ever get a chance to see them live, do it; you won’t regret it.

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