The Bean Pickers Union - Better The Devil
Like a few alternative bands from the US Americana scene, The Bean Pickers Union are basically one man, Chuck Melchin, and a bunch of other guys. Melchin writes all the songs, plays multiple instruments on most of the tracks, and sings. The ‘other guys’ are an ever-changing troupe that play on the road with Melchin, and here on new album Better The Devil they mostly excel on the various guitars, mandolin, and violin featured. On this belated follow-up to 2007’s well-received Potlatch, The Bean Pickers Union work through a mix of sad laments and good time mandolin tracks.
Opening with a furious-ish ninety second burst of mandolin, acoustic guitar and violin, ‘Proem’ leaves you expecting a pretty straightforward take on country-tinged Americana. This expectation isn’t changed by second track ‘Magnolia’; it’s not until the third track ‘Burning Sky’, a raw voiced, mariachi flavoured track, that things pick up. The fragile vocals and light acoustic guitar of ’Down’, ‘Numb’ and ‘Jolene’ form a wonderful middle section, the lyrics full of regret and sadness. The most enjoyable track is ‘Ditch’, with some great work on the variety of string instruments used; it’s a simple road trip movie in song form, and lifts the mood musically if not lyrically. This central section raises Better The Devil from a slightly uninteresting selection of middle-of-the-road banjo tracks to something a bit more special. Sadly, ’Tranquility’ and ‘Somteimes I Just Sits’ aren’t quite at that level and nor is closer ‘Cameo’. Better The Devil is an almost beautiful album that leaves you thinking it’s not just a pretty straightforward take on anything - and feeling like you’ve experienced a slightly darker piece of America than usual.