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Dean Alexander writes about himself, spinning a rich (and, at times, tragic) backstory into raw, rugged roots music laced with dark humor, bright melodies, and instrumentation that splits the difference between 1970s folk-rock and modern-day Americana.
A singular character who's as proudly left-of-center as his own songs, Alexander shines a light on his traumas and triumphs with his full-length debut, Devil Man's Blues. Don't mistake him for a rookie, though. He's a time-tested survivor of Nashville's music industry, having earned his stripes as a Gibson Guitar luthier, Lower Broadway performer, major-label artist, and A-list songwriter long before embracing his independence with Devil Man's Blues. Released in October 2019, the album pairs Alexander with other singular solo artists of his generation — Todd Snider, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and Lillie Mae, all of whom make appearances on the album — while carving out the singer's own signature corner of the roots-music world.
"You have to give up everything, or you get nothing," says Alexander, who reaches deep into his own past for Devil Man's Blues' inspiration. It's a past that's complexly checkered, involving everything from the loss of his parents — both of whom passed away when he was still a child — to his subsequent raising at the hands of his deeply-religious grandparents, who brought Alexander up in an environment that prized faith over freedom. The album's title track, with its slide guitar swampiness and talking-blues delivery, tells the true-life story of Alexander's nightly escapes from his grandparents' window, guitar in hand, to play songs at the nearby Oscar's Bar and Grill in rural West Virginia. Those were his first gigs, filled with Hank Williams covers and Jerry Jeff Walker classics. Other songs reach back even further; "Paint Chips," with its slow-motion saunter and double-handed doses of black humor, finds Alexander wondering if his father fed him "chips dipped in paint" as a child, while the acoustic "A Breath Away" touches upon the last conversation the pair ever had. On "Death Angel Sympathy," he even commiserates with the Grim Reaper, knowing that the scythe-carrying skeleton is just doing his job…