The Devil Can’t Do You No Harm is one of the brightest tag team ideas in the underground roots rock world. Andalusian rocker savants, Guadalupe Plata, and New York City renaissance man, Mike Edison, bring heavy-duty complementary skills across ten recordings that pay homage to the building blocks of the rock world with raucous modern takes on American gospel, folk, and pre-civil war spiritual cuts.
Those who are familiar with Edison’s career know his penchant for the history of early American music, as he notes on his Arts & Seizures podcast and critically acclaimed books I Have Fun Everywhere I Go and more recently Sympathy For The Drummer: Why Charlie Watts Matters. Guadalupe Plata’s critically heralded catalog is rooted deep in the world of blues, early psychedelic rock, and rockabilly rhythm.
This album is the first musical offering from Edison since 2016’s Go-Go Gospel and the Shaking Beat album by The Edison Rocket Train and the first offering from Guadalupe Plata since 2018’s self-titled release and a career retrospective LP box set as an exclusive for Record Store Day 2020. This collaboration makes complete sense given their appreciation for the boogie and swing of rock and roll’s early predecessors.
The Devil Can’t Do You No Harm clocks in at 33:00 and delivers both original tracks and a recap of America’s musical pastime when the throes of social oppression in the United States included the unabashed slavery economy and later Jim Crow laws. Freedom, rebellion, and hope are the themes of the covers Edison and the Andalusians touch upon with tracks performed by in the past by Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, Lead Belly, The Fisk Jubilee Singers, Pete Seeger, Diamanda Galás, and Muddy Waters that cross electric gospel and blues, psychedelic rock, and rockabilly.
This album is not only a showcase of the capabilities of these two off but an honoring of some of the earliest predecessors of rock ‘n’ roll music responsible for countless social events, artists, and movements across multiple generations. Suppose The Fisk Jubilee Singers never organized in 1871. Who knows if there would have been a Rolling Stones, and who knows if Edison would have written a book about their drummer, or if Guadalupe Plata would be the well-rounded roots-rock band that they are.
An atmosphere that resembles a dusk setting in a rustic town leads off the LP with the band’s big beat, theremin-infused electric rendition of the 19th-century spiritual “Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho.” The slow groove cadence of Carlos Jimena’s percussion mixed with Edison’s vocals ranging from rough harmonies to hoarse-sounding hymns encapsulates the band as if they’re buskers by trade and the end is nigh on this day’s performance. The band adds their name alongside Aretha Franklin, Kingston Trio, and others with a psychedelic swamp blues cut of the traditional Gospel, “Oh Mary, Don’t’ You Weep.” However, the covers that stand in part of each artist’s flare front and center is Jimena’s slow, controlled beat leading a mud-caked blues cover of Muddy Waters song “Take Sick and Die” and Jimena changing to a hard-driving beat over the cacophonous polyphonies from the guitars of Edison and Pedro De Dios.
It’s not all dread-in-the-face-of-troubled-times on The Devil Can’t Do You No Harm. “Old Fashioned Communication Blues” shows the band switching gears into uptempo outlaw country territory, with Edison demonstrating his long-carved out skills and assertive confidence in his frontman prowess and musical fluidity and depth that has made De Dios and Jimena stand out among their contemporaries. The smoky lounge feel of “That’s Where I’m At” is carried out with De Dios’s seductive chords eliciting a New York City noir feel over Edison’s vocal work. There’s even a love song here with Edison’s admiration of Elvis melodies on full display and features De Dios’s channeling longtime Elvis collaborator, Scotty Moore, with a dextrous solo in the break of the song’s rockabilly swing.
It’s worth repeating; this tag team is a brilliant idea and one with substance. Real talk.
Get the album here.