Romance stalks Meshell Ndegeocello like a killer on "Devil's Halo," which features such murderous tunes as "Slaughter" and "Die Young." Yet Ndegeocello has rarely sounded stronger, and the disc's stripped-down approach accentuates her musical brawn.
An alumna of both Howard University and the District's go-go scene, Ndegeocello has explored pop, jazz, hip-hop and other forms. Where 2007's "The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams" was eclectic and expansive, "Devil's Halo" keeps things simple. With just a three-piece band behind her, Ndegeocello alternates between starkly catchy pop-funk numbers and torch songs that sometimes burst into flames. The opening "Slaughter" sets the tone: "Don't say you love me/I'll run away," croons Ndegeocello, playing the lounge singer on the verses but boosting her voice to match co-producer Chris Bruce's guitar during the hard-rock refrains.
Sonically, the busiest track is the up-tempo yet dejected "Lola," whose heroine turns to drink after "the boy she loved/Left her for another girl/The girl she loved/Left her for another boy." The song has a playful energy that belies its subject. The album can also be potent at lower speeds, as "Love You Down" demonstrates. This come-on is slow and sultry, but its bristling guitar coda proclaims that Ndegeocello can never be mellow.
-- Mark Jenkins, Weekend (Oct. 2009)