PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Photo: Courtesy of Record Kicks

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

The Devonns
The Devonns

Record Kicks

5 June 2020

You will hardly find a band more defined by the covers they play than the Devonns on their self-titled debut album. The Chicago quartet led by singer-songwriter Mathew Ajjarapu delivers an exquisite fusion of their hometown soul heritage with Motown delicacy in eight original songs and two covers. Take the 1970s ballad "So in Love With You" by Leroy Hutson, remade in a slightly more orchestrated version, and you get the tone of the record. Sleek harmonies, elegant and flawlessly arrangements, a distinctive voice enhanced by romantic lyrics about the sensual devoted love archetype shaped by Al Green.

There is no doubt that Hutson and the rich musical legacy of their city were a huge influence on the band. Ajjarapu explains, "A lot of the labels specializing in soul were based in 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."

The opening track "Come Back" carries the features of Chicago soul, like the orchestration, strings and soft yet alluring lyrics to a beloved ex-girlfriend. "What I think all the times / She would let me come back to her place / In her eyes love shine / I'd do anything just to see that face / We would sleep and wake again / Catch the sunrise through her window." The second cover, "Green Light" from the 2008's Jim by Jamie Lidell. A peculiar choice since Jim is already a tribute album to soul music, but the band don't rely on a pure replica of the past.

Although The Devonns sounds like a vintage album, it has a warm modern twist in the recording and avoids to feel artificial. Ajjarapu needed two years to finish the recording, and it wasn't until Paul Von Mertens (Mavis Staples, Paul McCartney, Elton John) and Ken Stringfellow (R.E.M.) came in that he achieves the right sound. A tale of perfectionism that pays off.

Track after track, the Devonns unfold glimpses of various soul genres, an act of respect to Black music in honoring its past. The single "Tell Me" is the uptempo song with a catchy Sound of Young America vibe you wish to dance on a Northern soul dancefloor. "More" is a disco-inspired track, while "Blood Red Blues" shifts away from the love themes and embrace the protest song tradition. "Blood runs on the parking lot / Cops said another boy's been shot / Mama walks for the house she got / But the bank came along everything she got / What's going wrong? / How long must we wait for the time for us to live as one?"

Aiming to homage the city, the history, and the music they breathe and love, the Devonns release a soulful album in the most emotional meaning of the word. A record truly defined by its inner intention, from the choice of covers to the meticulous arrangements. Still, the band prove to have the mind and the imagination to master it effectively.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.