music / Columns

Jam Central Station: The Devil Makes Three – Redemption and Ruin Review

October 1, 2016 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski

The Devil Makes Three have been honing their unique bluegrass/bayou/folk sound for years, and they’ve continued to evolve album to album. Their newest album, Redemption and Ruin continues to follow similar themes that they’ve hit on in the past. Drugs, death, depression, love, and religion all find their way onto this album. The band explores this by relying completely on cover songs and classic spirituals on the album. The themes are familiar, the execution falls in line with what the band has done previously, and the result is another very solid album from the band.

Given the order of the songs and the flow of the album, Redemption and Ruin probably should have been titled Ruin and Redemption instead. The first half of the album is possibly the most complete collection of songs about drinking and doing drugs that I’ve heard on a single album. It’s an album about living life at the extreme edge with no consequences. Robert Johnson’s “Drunken Hearted Man” sets the stage with the opening line “I’m a drunken hearted man whose life is misery, if I could change my way of living it would mean so much to me.” But the early songs show no desire to actually live out that change. Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer” is a fairly upbeat picture of someone drinking and smoking their way through life. The song features a repeating riff on the Resonator guitar throughout the song that’s catchy but wears out its welcome by the end of the song. I wonder if that was intentional given the theme. Willie Nelson’s “I Gotta Get Drunk” has an old-timey feel to it and belongs in a dank bar. The music is almost uplifting, but the lyrical content starts to turn with this song, showing some regret for that life.

The next three songs continue that transition, starting with Kris Kristofferson’s “Chase That Feeling.” There’s a realization at this point of what’s happening, that the narrator has to “chase that feeling till you die.” Everything’s ok when you’re high, but you have to keep chasing it. “I’m Gonna Get High” seems like a continuation of “I Gotta Get Drunk,” both in sound and in theme. A real Louisiana bayou bar song, but with the clear implication that getting high is the only way that this person is going to function. Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting Around To Die” is the obvious culmination of the first half of the record. This reflective dirge gives the story of how the narrator ended up in this state, that drinking and drugs were simply “easier than just waiting around to die.”

The Redemption half of the album relies on covers and classical spirituals to tell that half of the story. It starts with “There’ll Be A Jubilee.” The contrast that starts here is stark, and can only represent the change that happens when someone comes back from rock bottom. Religion is the theme of this half of the album in a very overt way. Every song on this half would fit in an old church setting with a choir and a dancing congregation. A cover of the Ralph Stanley spiritual “I Am The Man Thomas” makes it clear that the redemption piece of the album is coming through Christ. The repetition and arrangement of both “I Am The Man Thomas” and Tom Waits’ “Come On Up To The House” again makes the songs sound very much like ragtime hymns.

The theme of religious salvation continues with the final three tracks, although the feel changes. “What Would You Give (In Exchange For Your Soul)” originally became well known due to a version by Doc Watson and Bill Monroe and is much slower song with some call and response included. The traditional folk hymn “Down In The Valley” is given a solid New Orleans folk/blues treatment. The closing track, a Hank Williams song called “The Angel Of Death,” pictures the subject of the album finally confronting the end of his life and the questions that he’ll need to answer. The song includes what I can only assume is a bowed saw, giving the closing track an ethereal sound.

This is the first time The Devil Makes Three has had such a clear running theme on an album. The album breaks down very neatly into two halves, and each of those break down into 3 song pieces that fit together to cover a specific theme. It’s also the most overtly religious album the band has done. They’ve tackled faith before (it’s hard to avoid given the style they work in) but they’ve never devoted this much material to an overtly religious theme. It’s a little clunky at times, and the transition between the Ruin and the Redemption halves is very sudden, but the theming works and the message is clear. The use of all covers to tell the story is an interesting piece, although anyone who isn’t aware of the originals may not realize that these aren’t DM3 songs. The band took a chance with this one, and they put together a very solid, very clear, and very interesting album. It’s great to see the way that they continue to progress as a band.

Los Muertos Con Queso announced
Los Muertos Con Queso, a destination event in Riviera Maya, Mexico, was announced. The event will feature Bob Weir & Bill Kreutzman teaming with some special guests as well as The String Cheese Incident. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood as well as two unannounced “friends” will also be at the event.

Wanee announces dates
Wanee will return to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park from April 20-22. The festival marks the traditional start of festival season in the jam band world.

Sweetwater 420 Fest announces lineup
The Sweetwater 420 Fest will take place from 4/21-23 at Centennial Park in Atlanta. The festival will feature two nights of Widespread Panic, two sets of the Trey Anastasio Band, as well as Slightly Stoopid, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Dark Star Orchestra, Anders Osborne, Twiddle, and others.

Phish announce MSG NYE run
Phish will return to Madison Square Garden for another New Years run. They will play the famed venue from 12/28-31 this year. The ticket request deadline is 10/10 for the shows.

Bear Creek Bayou
September 30-October 1
Mardi Gras World
New Orleans, LA
The Flaming Lips, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Lettuce, Soulive, Foundations of Funk, Dumpstafunk, The Floozies, Lotus, The Nth Power, Papadosio, Earphunk

Hillberry Harvest Moon Festival
October 13-16
Eureka Springs, AR
Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, The INfamous Stringdusters, The Travelin’ McCourys, The New Mastersounds, Turkuaz, Larry Keel

Suwannee Hulaween
October 28-30
The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
3 nights of The String Cheese Incident, My Morning Jacket, Umphrey’s McGee, STS9, Big Gigantic featuring The Motet, The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Lettuce, Grensky Bluegrass, The Revivalists, Snarky Puppy

Dominican Holidaze
December 1-5
Breathless Beach Resort & Spa
Punta Cana
Umphrey’s McGee, The Disco Biscuits, STS9, Joe Russo’s ALmost Dead, Lotus, Lettuce, Shpongle, The Floozies

Strings & Sol
December 9-13
New Sapphire
Puerto Morelos, Mexico
Yonder MOuntain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Keller & The Keels, Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass

Jam Cruise
January 20-25
Sailing from Miami, FL
The Original Meters, moe., GRiZ, Galactic, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Benevento Russo Duo, Lettuce, Kamasi Washinton, The Revivalists, The Motet, Beats Antique

Los Muertos Con Queso
January 25-28
Riviera Maya, Mexico
The String Cheese Incident, Bill Kreutzmann & Bob Weir with Dave Schools, Jeff Chimenti, and Tom Hamilton, Chris Robinson Brotherhood

Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Three Concerts On The Beach
February 23-25
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Panic En La Playa
February 27-March 3
Hard Rock Hotel
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Widespread Panic, Orgone, Southern Soul Assembly, Playa All Stars

Wanee Festival
April 20-22
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL

Sweetwater 420 Festival
April 21-23
Centennial Park
Atlanta, GA
Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio Band, Slightly Stoopid, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Anders Osborne, Dark Star Orchestra, Twiddle

Mountain Jam
June 16-18
June 8-11
Manchester, TN

Electric Forest I
June 22-25
Rothbury, MI

Electric Forest II
June 29-July 2
Rothbury, MI

August 24-27
Arrington, VA

Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!