For almost 15 years, Bay Area-based trio the Devil Makes Three have been working to put the “country, bluegrass and blues” back into CBGB. On their fifth album I’m A Stranger Here, they meld the punk grit of the scuzzy landmark with the sort of swinging, foot-stomping barn-burners they’ve perfected over the course of their past four records and endless tours.
The Devil Makes Three operate with unmatched intensity: Save for two achy ballads, the tracks on Stranger pummel through one another. Guitarist Pete Bernhard handles most of the lead vocals and trades up-tempo riffs with banjo player Cooper McBean that emphasize the off-beat. Lucia Turino’s walking bass lines feel more like a wind sprint, and her flawless vocal harmonies color the record’s edges.
The darkly religious imagery matches the music’s urgency. “Forty Days” invokes the Great Flood, and “Hellelu” offers an acidic take on the Second Coming: “They say Jesus is comin’/ He must be walkin’, he sure ain’t runnin’/ Who could blame ‘um/ Look how we done ‘um/ Hallelu.” Luckily, they infuse humor into these ominous tales, resulting in a tone that’s more O Brother, Where Art Thou? than The Passion of the Christ. The result is a record that burns, in both the conceptual and the musical senses.