The Devonns ‘The Devonns’ LP/CD (Record Kicks) 5/5

From the moment the utterly glorious 45 landed from this lot I was totally hooked, “Come Back” & “Think I’m falling in love” have been played continuously here, “Come back” is a swaying stepper” whilst “Falling” sits firmly in the crossover soul camp with its insidious strolling tempo. I’ll be honest; I did wonder whether the album would surface anytime soon, as initially, I thought that these were unissued tracks, but on discovering they were recorded at Kingsize Sound Lab, Chicago – which is a modern-day working studio – I was hopeful it was all new material, and so, here we have an album.

WOW! If you only buy one more album this year, do make sure it’s this one. Ten tracks of subtle soulful beauty, with all leads handled by Mat with the exception of “Green Light”, where Jamie Lidell steps in – the man who’s 2008 album for Warp Records contains the stunning flowing modern soul dancer “Another Day”, which also contained the original version of “Green Light” which is covered on here, with Jamie on lead. The band draws its influences from the likes of The Dramatics, The Isley Brothers, Leroy Hutson, Jamie Lidell (of course) and Raphael Saadiq.

Mat Ajjarapu explains:

“The city was at the epicentre of a lot of good music back in the ’50s all the way to the ’80s, a lot of the labels specialising in soul were based in the Chicago and we even had our own sound known as “Chicago soul”. Through several years of crate-digging it surprised me how many songs I loved were recorded in this city, for example, one of my favourites is this great little song by The Natural Four, produced by Leroy Hutson ‘Can This Be Real’, and released via Curtom Records. […] This is a definitely a throwback soul record, as well as being drawn to lush and intricate arrangements of Motown, I was also inspired by the more lo-fi works of smaller labels such as Chess and Capsoul, and I wanted to capture the magic they had in those recordings in our record, as everything feels too precise nowadays”

The group consist of Mat who is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Khaiyle Hagood on Bass, Ari Lindo – Guitar, Khori Wilson – Drums, these guys were eventually joined by percussionist, organist and guitarist of some note, Ken Stringfellow. For this album, the group were joined by arranger and conductor Paul Von Mertens who has worked with the likes of Mavis Staples, Paul McCartney and Elton John. It’s Paul’s strings that caress and comfort the whole beautiful sound. The album took some 19 months to complete and the perfectionism shines. Coming from someone who has been collecting soul music in all guises for 53 years, owning the entire Capsoul output and the vast majority of Chess and its affiliated labels, and grew up listening to Motown first hand, I’m confident in claiming that this album bears all the soulful hallmarks of those influences and foundations.

Let’s kick off with the strolling big bass sound of “Tell Me”, which is an absolute joy to dance to and dare I say a direct comparison with Raphaal Saadiq’s “Love That Girl” from 2008, which got some serious plays at the more enlightened soul gatherings over here in the UK. “Tell Me” will be the first single from the album released as a limited edition 45 early next month. Leroy Hutson’s “So In Love With You” has been elevated in the UK to grail status due to countless plays at the burgeoning Sunday Soul Sessions that now flourish across the UK, with The Devonns offering up their take on this release, and it’s a totally addictive tune too – my replay button has been seriously active. The real grower on here is “Blood Red Blues”, a meandering string-laden protest song asking the age-old question “How long must we wait for justice to be done”. The uptempo “More” should get plays on modern soul floors, strings abound, driving percussion, guitar trying to get in on the act and pumping bass – I would suggest our European friends may well take this one to there hearts… “I know” is a beautiful simple lowrider, with haunting organ, creeping strings and sympathetic percussion driven by some truly fine vocals. Folks, if this album breaks out over here, this will be the soul radio play for everyone, just stunning. And as we mentioned “Green Light” earlier, well on here it’s a flowing mid-tempo dancer that should garner some attention with Jamie sounding quite superb indeed.

The remaining track are all worthy additions. Ten very strong tracks and I can see this celebrated in the end of year lists for many a soul fan on these shores. Available in all formats from the 3rd April, however, their Bandcamp page notes only 25 Limited Edition vinyl packs up for pre-order, which includes two 45s – Well, I guess there’s now only 24!

Brian Goucher