“Devil In Me” – Natalie Duncan

4 stars (out of 5)

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Product DetailsThis album has been out for a while and it’s taken us a few months to get round to reviewing it; I can only apologise.  I hadn’t heard of Natalie Duncan before her appearance on “Later” although, to be fair, I don’t think Matt Bellamy had either and he caught on fairly quickly.  So, let’s make amends for missing out originally.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I love albums that cut to the chase and start with a track that features the power of the songs, the arrangements, the playing and the vocals.  The opener “Devil in Me” does all of that and more; a stunning a cappella intro showcases Natalie Duncan’s fabulous voice leading in to a song in 3/4 time which features classical guitar and traditional brass band instruments; how often do you hear a euphonium on a soul song?

This is an album that keeps you guessing; you never know what’s around the next corner musically or lyrically and even the production styles vary hugely across the album from the fairly straight soul of the title track through the country-folk styling of “Songbird” and the dub reggae feel of “Pick Me Up Bar” to the aggressive dissonance of “She Done Died”.  Lyrically, the first four songs on the album are in fairly standard territory for a downbeat soul chanteuse, but after “Sky is Falling”, the mood darkens with the intimations of mortality and irrelevance in “Old Rock” before moving into failed panaceas (“Pick Me Up Bar”), rootlessness (“Find Me a Home”) and failing relationships (“Flower”). And that’s before you get to the cocktail of sex, drugs, alcohol, love and betrayal of the powerful, emotionally-charged “She Done Died”.

Throughout the album, it’s impossible to fault the quality of the singing, the playing, the arrangements and the production.  The only small fault with the album is that, for me, some of the lyrics would benefit from a bit of extra polishing.  I know I can’t just say that without giving you an example, so how about “little man sat in the corner” from “Old Rock”.  There’s no reason for not using “sitting” rather than “sat” in that line; it fits in just as well with the melody and, for all of us grouchy old pedants, it’s  grammatically correct.  Apart from the slight doubts about the odd lyric, this is an incredibly polished, accomplished and moving album and the best debut album I’ve heard this year; Natalie Duncan is a name that you’ll be hearing for a long time to come.

It’s not just about the quality and variety either; there are 14 tracks on the album and they’re all worth listening to.  Approach this album with an open mind and you’ll find a unique talent drawing in influences from jazz, soul, blues, reggae and many other musical styles to create something that is totally Natalie Duncan.  It’s more Jill Scott than Alicia Keys, more Angie Stone than Joss Stone and much more Billie Holiday than Ella Fitzgerald; you won’t ever regret listening to this one.