Devil in a Woodpile

In Your Lonesome Town

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There's a photo inside Devil in a Woodpile's In Your Lonesome Town, taken from the point of view of a light fixture far above. It depicts a makeshift recording studio set up on the tile floor and Oriental rug below. An acoustic bass lies on its side near a big piano; washboards, jugs, and a lone kick drum are spread across the far side of the rug. Microphone cords snake here and there, and the surfaces of two National steel-bodied guitars gleam in the camera's flash. The shot captures the casual hominess of Devil in a Woodpile's music, the music that takes a toothy-grin approach to blues, bluegrass, hot jazz, and hillbilly sounds, throwing them all into a big hat and using the result to buy beers for the room. (That room is usually a rollicking Chicago tavern called the Hideout, where Woodpile has a regular and unamplified Tuesday night gig.) Bandleader Rick "Cookin'" Sherry is his usual self here, his vocals somewhere between hoedown rap and impromptu Saturday night singer. He plays that washboard, jug, and kick drum throughout Lonesome Town, as well as clarinet (to great effect on a sleepy "Louisiana Fairytale") and harmonica. Guitarist Joel Paterson is confident, quick, and nimble -- he handles a sped-up version of Charley Patton's "Shake It and Break It," gives Led Zeppelin's "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" a prickly steel guitar quality that matches wits with the bass and chattering washboard, and sloshes along with Sherry on "When I'm Drinkin'." Sherry's clarinet is alive again on the shuffling hot jazz number "Has My Gal Been By Here?" (which also features some great tuba work), and the original Sherry/Paterson instrumental "Beer Ticket Rag" is as casual, fun, and hothouse evocative as those Hideout sessions can be. (Great splash cymbal accents, too.) Devil in a Woodpile probably aren't roots music puritans. They just mix and match what works for them from the forms they love, let Sherry loose over the top, and bind it all together with energetic playing that's always a real crowd-pleaser.

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