This album is somewhat of a summit meeting of two (plus two) of the most interesting characters in Americana music today. Chris Cacavas is of course the keyboard player for the troubled troupe that was Green On Red way back in the eighties before releasing a series of essential recordings with his band Junkyard Love. Edward Abbiati is the UK born leader of Italian Americana band Lowlands who have intrigued since their first release, The Last Call, in 2008 with the essence of Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie and Richmond Fontaine in their DNA. Cacavas guested on Lowlands’ debut album and last year he travelled from his current domicile in Germany to North Italy to record Me And The Devil with Abiatti picking up a crack rhythm section along the way, Winston Watson on drums, one of Dylan’s Never Ending Tour stalwarts (as well as past duties with Giant Sand and Warren Zevon) along with Mike “Slo Mo” Brenner, a multi instrumentalist who has played with Marah and Jason Molina who carries out bass and lap steel duties here. Cacavas and Abbiati huddled together and wrote the songs which the band then recorded in a two day burst in a barn close to Abiatti’s hometown of Pavia.
The end result of this “barnstorming” stream of consciousness approach to the record is surprisingly good given that it had all the elements present that could have resulted in an aural equivalent of an essay on “what we did on our holidays.” Instead the ten songs here are all robust with the band firing on all cylinders (with additional input on tenor Sax, cello and harmonica on some cuts) with at least one of the numbers achieving epic status. They open with the rumbling blues of Against The Wall, bass thumping and organ and harp (Richard Hunter) wailing while tenor Sax (Andres Villan) parps away. Like a Native American war dance sung by Morphine this is best experienced cranked up to full volume as the slab of sound hits in the chest and heart. A terrific opener. A chunky guitar rips into the introduction of the title song, a classic heat blasted slice of American music with a sludge like bottom topped by harmonica acrobatics from Hunter and a fierce guitar solo from another guest musician, Stefan Roller. Oh Baby, Please has Cacavas let loose on the organ while the sax drives a sixties garage punk riff that snarls with a pout not heard or seen since The Fleshtones, a song waiting to be discovered by hipsters on dance floors all over Tarantino land, again, play loud and just surrender to the dumb beat.
The Week Song is unfortunately titled as it palls in comparison to its predecessors but the opening chords of Hay Into Gold with a cello abetting the powerful bass and drum highway drive take us back into a dark Americana underbelly, lanced by shards of lap steel as the song creeps along in a disturbing stalking fashion. Long Dark Sky maintains this haunting, even threatening menace. Although it opens with a mighty mid sixties Who like thrash it soon unravels into a neon lit David Lynch nightmare lyrically while at the end the band bring it back to The Who with a mischievous morse code guitar stutter and thrashing Moon like drums. Can’t Wake Up is another dark tale with an acoustic slide driven push but The Other Side then sails into sight, towering above its compadres. Harking back to Cacavas’ early albums it employs a Neil Young slow burn as the guitars roil and boil churning up a menacing stew with Watson’s cymbals crashing away while the song ebbs and flows in magnificent fashion. The only complaint here is that it ends far too soon. I’ll See Ya in comparison is understated. Acoustic and tender it affords a ray of light in comparison to the devilish mayhem that precedes it while the closing song, Rest Of My Life, is another plea, plaintive this time, to be released from the shackles of the heart and given an uplifting feel with some winsome lap steel.
Overall Me And The Devil is a cracking album while the excellent cover art by Deborah Maggioncalda adds to the attraction. Very highly recommended.