Over many years, The Hat has never offered up stars, ratings or any other daft gradings to music he gets to listen to, see or review. There are good reasons for this, the most obvious being that it is not 'Strictly Come Dancing' so what the hell does a 'reviewer' do when they have imperiously handed out a 'Ten' – and something better comes along – invent an Eleven? Nah.
This terrific album is a fine example....The Little Devils recent release 'The Storm Inside' is a classic candidate for re-writing the ratings rule book - if I had one. This is a passionate, powerful, clever and beautifully executed album with the mix of superb vocals, lyrics, musicianship and arrangements coming together in a way that would put any rating system into meltdown in every department. The whole album journey concept of 14 tracks is well-ordered and interesting.
Making a name for themselves on the 2014 festival circuit, this is apparently the first album that last year's 'live' line-up of musicians have collaborated on and despite the transition from live to studio CD - which is always a hard trick to pull off - it works with huge success. The mix is terrific. On some levels, it is a like a festival performance. On the one hand, there are some foot-stomping pieces and on the other there is much that is heart-rendingly sad and thoughtful. It would be difficult to find a single track on this album that could not be put straight onto a live performance stage and yet the production allows an intimacy that can be beamed straight into your own stereo. This band has presence. It would take too much space to give all these tracks the proper respect. There is a bit of blues here plus some soul, a tiny touch of country, a bit of shed-a-tear and some kick-off-your shoes. But, above all, pay attention to the lyrics.
There is no avoiding the power of Yoka Qureshi's deliverance of the potent lyrics – and the song-writing, all penned by Ray Qureshi and Graeme Wheatley, is top quality. Yoka sings on them all but for one track where there is a left-field transfer of responsibilities - in 'Long Time Ago' and Graeme gets the wistful lyrics while Yoka (wearing her Roland Kirk hat no doubt) stands up front with her beautiful ethereal flute. It is difficult to avoid the directness and pain of some of the songs, and the killer soul that Yoka brings to a number like the much lauded 'Deep Inside', amongst others, could barely be matched by Dusty Springfield at her finest, saddest and bluesy best. Many of the song constructions are interesting too - in that they use the device of a chorus repeat as an integral part of the song, sometimes to underline the sentiment set out before and on other occasions to offer a redemptive counterpoint to to an earlier cry of sadness or reflection.
But let's not over-think this.. All four in this band are clearly hugely accomplished, with Yoka adding quite brilliant haunting flute and saxophone to great effect while Big Ray's guitar, even when letting loose, dovetails economically into every arrangement in a perfect partnership. Graeme Wheatley's bass and Sara Leigh Shaw's drumming never put a beat out of place and it is nice to hear them given a bit of space when the number permits.
Curiously, the album opens with a very short haunting guitar track, 'Storm Warning', offering up a desolate Cooder style slide, harp and cool vocal - and you wonder where that is going to lead you. Well, as the title suggests, this is a stormy journey, but we are in safe hands. They take us through some sad stuff delivered with passion and feeling and not a little humour. This is an outstanding album and the Little Devils have put down a substantial claim-marker to be one of the high flyers of 2015. Forget the star rating. Just go and buy it.