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Smokey Bellows - "Devil" album review

Smokey Bellows is a folk/blues/cowpunk band from here in Pittsburgh, PA. I used to book them at Roboto back when they were called Dick Whiskey and the Bottle Openers. Though the goofy name may have turned some away, they were still a great band. Now called Smokey Bellows, the band released Devil on August 17th of this year. As they say, and I mean nobody, 81718 is the number of the Beast. Save me.

The cover art to Devil is by Mick Malone, a poet and visual artist who I spoke with in February. Mick's art here has the look of blood and ink suggesting an unholy pact with the unhinged depiction of the beast. The title text looks spooky, and the band name is printed boldly like an old chest delivered from the Arctic that might contain a terrible secret. It's perfect for this occult tale.

The first track on Devil, "Prologue", has a swing feel to the blues/folk. The vocals are a little overboard for much of this song. The instrumentation is pretty minimal overall, discordant, and sparse. The piano clashes a bit with the guitar. After the introduction to the story, it's time for "Devil I". I really like the reverb-laden production here, though the bass is a slight bit too loud at first. The guitar jangles like ice under the moon, and the vocals, like Reid Paley himself, tell us the dark tale dramatically. This whole album is very theatrical, recalling Tom Waits. "Devil II" is a heavier rocker. Like ZZ Top, the guitar goes deep into heavy blues thunder and lightning. This is a great song. "Midnight" goes hard rock again, backing vocals howling like cowboy spirits from dirt and grit. The banjo is a nice touch, expertly hidden away behind roaring guitar solos. The guitar is really wild here, almost to Guitar Wolf levels.

"Adrift" begins with a raging man, lost. It explodes, but it's cold and nervous most of the time under the eye of fear. The vocals are a little off, the lyrics a little too specific to the story, written in a way that isn't the most musical. "Epilogue" does the story-telling better in tune with the song. A particularly grim guides our narrator on his descent into Hell. But that's not the end - Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" follows. This one sits closer to the original than to well-known cover by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Along with "Devil II", this is one of the strongest songs on the album.

Overall, Devil is pretty good. It has a few fault moments, but Smokey Bellows succeeds with this cabaret-tinged tale of damnation and gloom. The album has a similar sound to Chris D.'s Flesh Eaters and Stone By Stone, along with the aforementioned Tom Waits, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, ZZ Top, and CCR. Despite the classic sound and tale, Smokey Bellows produce a unique sound on Devil that shows the past, present, and future of American musick. Devil receives a Good.