An impeccable, precocious talent recorded in her element.
Chris Parkin 2010-10-06
Chances are none of us will ever be truly happy with our lot, especially not if contrasted with Devon Sproule’s almost idyllic existence. Aside from the enormous touring costs incurred by an independent artist lugging vintage instruments everywhere, something Sproule complains sweetly about on this set recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall towards the end of 2009, the Ontario-born songstress sounds so free, unharried and sure of herself here that we’d happily offer a life-swap.
Born into a (happy) hippy commune, 28-year-old Sproule now lives in rural Charlottesville, Virginia with husband and touring partner Paul Curreri, a man whose wit and faraway imagination has lit up several terrific albums of his own. And their pastoral life together is borne out in Sproule’s dreamy and serene confessionals, all of her intensity put into pin-point observations of love and life, winding, earthy narratives and the lush, mellifluous brew of her (and her band’s) playing. It’s really not the sort of fare peddled by Americana stereotypes – the earnest Stars-and-Stripes hoisting yeehaws or the bone-weary, hard-bitten troubadours – that continue to overwhelm us.
If Sproule’s tender, uplifting style – a twangy Southern Belle influenced as much by the Jazz Age as she is Lucinda Williams and Patty Griffin – were just a little too slight on her most recent (fifth) album, Don’t Hurry for Heaven, from which most of the original tracks aired here are taken, Live in London fulfils the promise and then some.
On stage is where Sproule is at her finest, where her songs are delivered with a sweet little growl to enliven things and tell us when she’s feeling antsy, angry and sexy, as on the high-energy Old Virginia Block. Where her string work is so prettily nuanced but sharp it makes her contort her face, as you’ll see on the accompanying DVD. And with Sproule joined by now-regular guest BJ Cole on pedal steel and a cast of others on violin, viola and percussion, she and Curreri stitch together a rich, luxuriant comforter that casts an eye on the gathering storm clouds suggested in the dustbowl-reworking of Black Uhuru’s Sponji Reggae and green-eyed One Eye Open. Really, who wouldn’t feel jealous about an impeccable, precocious talent like this?