Pete Bernhard | Harmony, Ascension, Division | (KHAN Records)
Four out of Five Stars
Given the rowdy reputation of his regular band, The Devil Makes Three, Pete Bernhard’s solo career has tends to lurk in the shadows compared to his day job. That’s a shame not only given the quality of the three albums he’s issued on his own, but also because music he makes outside the band ought to be considered more than mere respite. While The Devil Makes Three has found a following that based on what appears to be an aggressive, agitated and insurgent style of bluegrass over the course of a nearly 20-year collective career, Bernhard opts for a stripped down sound that finesses folk, vintage Americana and a far more traditional template.
His is a thoughtful pastiche, one that depends on little more than a sublime vocal, an acoustic guitar and songs flush with more wistful intents.
Bernhard’s new album, Harmony, Ascension, Division, reaffirms the charms of that solitary stance. With a scant nine-song set that’s lean in both quality and quantity, he conveys a clear folk finesse in a way that’s both instantly engaging and truly befitting any tireless troubadour. Bernhard also offers a personal perspective that he says is based on “friendships, relationships, success, happiness and failure,” and indeed, these are apparently the elements referenced in the album decisive title. So too, the actual inspiration for the songs evolve out of individual encounters that took place during his teens and twenties.
Of course, Devil devotees will likely have a hard time reconciling Bernhard’s barebones delivery with that of the bigger band. On the other hand, the intimacy of this encounter ought to give more sensitive souls their own reason to respond.
Ultimately, Bernhard ought to be commended for sharing his sentiments in such a singular setting. Although it sometimes requires one to lean in and listen, Harmony, Ascension, Division is in fact a genuinely affecting encounter. That’s consistently clear, beginning with the opening enticement offered by “I Knew You” through to the bluesy balladry of “Down the Line,” the reverberating refrain found in “Long Night,” the beguiling beauty that defines “Dancin,” and the easy saunter that shines through on “Waiting for You.” Damn the Devil then. This is one heavenly set of songs.
We spoke with Pete about the project last week, if you are so inclined to check out his words on it, click here.