They say Jesus is coming
He must be walking, he sho’ ain’t running
Who could blame him, look how we done him
-The Devil Makes Three
One of the advantages of theological open-mindedness is that you can poke fun at your own religion without being disrespectful of it. This is not exclusive to the American South, but because the Southern Baptist mentality and iconography are so ubiquitous in the region, Southerners usually arrive at epiphanies of theological uncertainty as adults, so they are often slow to take a jaded view of Christianity without feeling at least disrespectful or at worst flat-out blasphemous. In other parts of the country, however, one is raised from birth in an environment that not only encourages theological open-mindedness, but treats religious skepticism almost as a religion in and of itself.
The Devil Makes Three is two thirds Vermonters and one third Texan, but their blues/folk/bluegrass style of music is primarily a Southern idiom. Thus, they bring an outsider’s perspective to the Southern dilemma of reconciling Saturday night behavior with Sunday morning dogma. Songs like “Hallelu” and “Forty Days” are not indictments of fundamentalism as much as they are acknowledgements of the human transgressions and natural disasters that are inevitable regardless of one’s spiritual orientation. Rather than vague references to “a life of sin”, compositions such as “Gracefully Facedown”, “Spinning Like a Top”, or “Beneath the Piano” are detailed anecdotes of heavy drinking, hard living and general debauchery. Instead of overt pleas for mercy, these songs carry an implicit acquiescence to human frailty, not as a means to exonerate bad behavior or to glorify hedonism, but to provide a context in which words like forgiveness and repentance can have meaning. After all, isn’t that what the teachings of Jesus really boil down to: acknowledging the disappointments, frailties and imperfections in ourselves and in others so that words like love, forgiveness and redemption can have meaning?