The Devil Knows How

album cover by Cal Evan (high resolution)

The Devil Knows How
released on DPSR/Gourd 13 May 2022

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1. “Yes, They All Sing”
2. Old Lady and the Devil
3. “Hold up Your Hand, Old Joshua!” She Cried
4. How Can I Keep from Crying?
5. Lily Shull
6. Ellen Smith
7. “They’d Sing Old Songs, and They’d Sing the New Ones”
8. Message Written on the Tombstone for 3½-year-old Ephriam Stipe, Died 1826
9. George Collins
10. Lee Mills

“As hard and bare as a timber floor” -The Wire

“A brilliant, bizarre album that…allows us to reconsider our feelings on archival folk music and folk revivalism” -Boomkat

“Piotr’s enthusiasm is compelling” -The Guardian

Building on the monumental pivot that was 2021’s Making and Then Unmaking, Derek Piotr interprets traditional ballads and folk tunes, culled primarily from the repertoire of his honorary new family (Lena Bare Turbyfill and her kin). The result is stripped-down old-time lifted up by its roots. Only two pieces here are original works: “Yes, They All Sing”, featuring the speaking voice of Lena Bare Turbyfill, and “They’d Sing Old Songs, and They’d Sing the New Ones” featuring the speaking voice of Nicola “Aunt Nicky” Pritchard (Turbyfill), link mother and daughter in their explanation of family singing tradition.

The rest of this collection offers ragged scraps of pedal steel hanging in thin air, brittle acoustic guitar backbones, and densely stacked harmony vocals. Piotr worked on this project with longtime friend Scott Solter (The Mountain Goats, Spoon), and the pair gave tape grain the sommelier treatment, pulling from Solter’s extensive background in black-magicked tape and wire recording techniques. The result is an album that hews closer to a field-recording repository than a studio document, with the actual medium of the recorded message varying wildly in fidelity, from tame warmth to feral hiss. This process allowed some of the tracks to go beyond feral, and they were then professionally restored by Stephan Mathieu as though they were historical recordings (“‘Hold up Your Hand, Old Joshua!’ She Cried”, and  “Message Written on the Tombstone for 3½-year-old Ephriam Stipe, Died 1826”).

“They’d Sing Old Songs, and They’d Sing the New Ones” links to Piotr’s spoken-word collage work on Avia (2019), with a threnody for his late Aunt Nicky backdropped by funereal pedal steel and twinkly electric guitar work (from former High School chum Peaer). “Lee Mills” is an honest-to-goodness straight-out-the-H4n Zoom recording, with no mixing or editing in post. The entire assemblage was mastered by engineer-to-the-stars Rashad Becker over at clunk; his input wraps the album in a vivid winding sheet.