After writing songs for over a year, Ndegéocello recorded Devil’s Halo in seven days with audio engineer S. Husky Höskulds. She was accompanied by a band featuring drummer Deantoni Parks, guitarist Chris Bruce, and keyboardist Keefus Ciancia; Bruce and Ciancia produced the record with Ndegéocello. The resulting music featured an eclectic fusion of styles, including alternative rock, soul, and jazz-rock, while Ndegéocello’s spiritually complex and ambiguous lyrics spoke of romantic love and loneliness, among other themes.
Ndegéocello spent over a year writing the songs from Devil’s Halo, being inspired in part by her trip to Ireland. “I went to a couple of pubs and there were much older gentlemen playing the guitar and just singing these amazing, simple songs”, Ndegéocello recalled. “I really admired that. I wanted to get to that kind of place where the song could just exist with a guitar and a vocal.” With Icelandic audio engineer S. Husky Höskulds, Ndegéocello proceeded to record the album in seven days, backed by a band that featured guitarist Chris Bruce, keyboardist Keefus Ciancia, and drummer Deantoni Parks. She later credited them with providing her inspiration and critique while keeping her “clear about what is the real focus—in life and in music”. Their instruments were recorded live without digital post-production, which Ben Ratliff of The New York Times said contributed to the music’s raw and organic sound.
The music of Devil’s Halo featured a “catholicity of sounds”, as The Boston Globe‘s Sarah Rodman described. Ndegéocello performed here in what Nick Coleman of The Independent called “the alt-rock idiom”, while Slant Magazine‘s Matthew Cole regarded it as an R&B record that utilized textures from experimental rock and electronica. Jacqueline Smith from The New Zealand Herald said its fusion of styles was based in soul music: “Though it channelled everyone from Sade to Santana, it’s an album of mostly soul – of the soul-baring kind”.AllMusic‘s Thom Jurek found the record’s “soulish, near-pop, rock tunes” starker than her previous three albums.
For the song “Slaughter”, Ndegéocello tried to weave together sonic influences from the producers Trevor Horn and RZA, as well as the bands Yes, Sade, and The Human League: “That’s what I tried to achieve in this particular recording: some sonic tapestries that people, even if they’re not listening to the lyrics, could just feel or hear, or just have a deep, inner dialogue with.” She covered Ready for the World‘s 1986 song “Love You Down“, deconstructing it into what Village Voice critic Eugene Holley Jr. described as “a stripper’s classic”. Songs such as “Mass Transit” and “White Girl” featured Ndegéocello’s characteristic ska and reggae influenced basslines; Holley argued that Caribbean riddims and country-rock guitar grooves underpinned the music, serving as a backdrop for Ndegéocello’s contralto singing throughout Devil’s Halo. In the opinion of Ed Potton from The Times, her voice “resided somewhere between Sade and PJ Harvey“.