It’s ironic that The Devil Makes Three score their biggest successes with solid showings on the bluegrass charts. Although their earlier efforts found them extolling a kind of swampy, roots-relevant approach, their last album, Redemption & Ruin, was a collection of covers, making this effort their first album of original material since 2013’s I’m a Stranger Here. But a bluegrass band? Hardly.
Granted, bluegrass is all about the energy and enthusiasms and in that sense, Chains Are Broken is an album imbued with solid hooks, catchy choruses and irresistible refrains. Even so, singer Pete Bernhard describes as a set of songs imbued with a more personal perspective, especially as it regards the challenges faced in any struggle for survival. “Paint My Face” effectively spells out the disconnect:
Come paint my face, come take my hand,
I do not wish you to understand
Someday you too will go to war
And by that time may you not fear death anymore
Not exactly the sort of sentiments likely to inspire a sense of celebration. Yet, despite such dire directives, this is a remarkably upbeat effort. “Can’t Stop,” “Need to Lose,” “Bad Idea,” and “All Is Quiet” are instant attention grabbers, the sort of songs that leave an impression even on initial contact. So in a certain sense, the approach is self-defeating. While Bernhard and his colleagues—bassist Lucia Turino, guitarist Cooper McBean and new recruit, touring drummer Stefan Amidon—are intent on conveying these tales of darkness and despair, their upbeat approach, flush with propulsive rhythms and distorted guitars, suggests a punk-like persona and a devil-may-care distinction, one that distracts and departs from any deeper meaning. Indeed, when Bernhard sings “Deep in my hard, I’m a terrible man,” on “Deep in my Heart,” the tendency is to simply forgive his faults and get in a groove.
Of course, the easiest thing is ignore the negative and simply celebrate the sound of a band at full throttle. Given the fractured world we live in, most of us would rather opt for an escapist option anyway. Best then to pay heed to the assertive statement that sums up “Native Son” as Bernhard declares “I ain’t going nowhere ‘cause I’m right where I belong.” That seems a momentary sentiment in a set of songs that describe circumstances that are anything but uplifting. And yet, best to favor the music over the malaise.
Watch The Devil Makes Three perform in the Paste studio below: