In case you’ve ever wondered how pop-culture would have been altered if Ava Gardner or Lana Turner had learned to play the stand-up bass, Devil Doll (aka Colleen Duffy) is on a mission to provide the answer. Equal parts sultry torch singer and rockabilly hellraiser, she’s a classic product of her adopted Los Angeles, even if her formative years were spent in the decidedly less glamorous Cleveland.
Taking her name from an early Roy Orbison song and her persona from the femme fatales of 1940s film noir (with a touch of Betty Page thrown in), Devil Doll exists in the same retro-land that created a swing revival a decade ago and has spurred a more recent fascination with all things burlesque. She works from the notion that people were sexier when they obsessed over style and acted out clearly defined mating rituals.
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Devil Doll frequently says that her goal is to bring the sex back to rock ’n’ roll, but if contemporary music is lacking sex, someone forgot to tell Ciara. What Devil Doll really means is that she’s trying to bring a kind of old-school seduction back into the mix. Applying this aesthetic to music can be tricky, however, and Devil Doll’s music works only sporadically. Her eclecticism can be distracting, as she restlessly wanders from the slow-burning jazz of “Queen of Pain” to the No Doubt-like ska of “Driven to Distraction.” Her voice is never less than adequate, but it only attains full vibrancy with the swinging rockabilly of tracks such as “Liquor Store.” She’s simply too buoyant to do moodiness with much conviction. •