Live Review | The Boardwalk, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson
There was a brief moment during Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri’s appearance at the Boardwalk in Sheffield tonight, just after Paul was asked to re-join his wife on stage at the end of her set, when the couple settled themselves adjacent to one another in their respective chairs and just for a moment, began a conversation made up entirely of giggles. It’s almost as if the realisation had suddenly and quite unexpectedly hit them, that they had found themselves in an alien environment, thousands of miles from home, sharing a stage and a spotlight yet finding themselves doing something that just comes so naturally to them, and doing it so well I might add. Their ‘duets’ have that sort of down-home quality and we the audience are privileged to bear witness. Then, just to throw us, they quite unexpectedly burst into the most sublime version of Black Uhuru’s “Sponji Reggae” imaginable. Earlier in the evening, Paul casually introduced himself as Devon’s ‘roommate’ before kicking off the night with a handful of songs, accompanying himself on his faithful Martin guitar, presumably the ‘old Martin’ that he apparently loves so much, as chronicled in Devon’s “Don’t Hurry for Heaven”. He went on to inform the audience, for those as yet unfamiliar with Americana’s own version of Romeo and Juliet, that they ‘split all the utilities’ and that Devon is ‘also my wife’. They actually remind me more of the living-breathing embodiment of the main protagonists in David Bowie’s “Kooks”, and that is part of their appeal. Paul Curreri is a highly competent guitar player and storyteller with a voice and song writing ability to match. If forced to make a comparison, I would think in terms of Ryan Adams, but thankfully with his finger nowhere near as close to the self-destruct button. When in playful mood, Paul Curreri has the ability to keep his audience transfixed with his stories. In “Long Gone John from Tennessee” for instance, we are treated to a hilarious ramble on Paul’s admiration for John’s shoes, you know, the cool ones with two stripes rather than the standard three. You sense that the couple probably tossed a coin to determine who would get up first tonight, for their appeal could quite easily be split equally. Paul in fact joked about a conversation the couple once had when things began to happen for them, where he asked his wife if she was prepared for his career to move faster than hers (and visa versa) only to reveal tonight that Devon is soon to record a session for the prestigious Jools Holland programme. He confesses that he’s doing fine “thank you for asking”. Paul Curreri’s songs are well constructed and maturely presented, covering the entire range of his recorded output from his 2002 debut From Long Gones to Hawkmoth to last year’s The Velvet Rut. “California”, “Letting Us Be” and “The Wasp” are all instantly accessible with a fluent fingerpicked guitar style and relaxed laid back vocal. The jazz tinged “Azalea” tips a hat to the swing era and brings Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington right up to date. Speaking of jazz, Devon Sproule has been compared to Norah Jones I’ve heard it said, although I completely missed this comparison upon my first encounter with her last year. In Devon we have the absence of polish that appears to dull the senses with much of the Grammy award winning jazz newbies on offer today. Perhaps it’s because I came to Devon via the stage rather than the back catalogue. I see her Western Swing and Country Folk sensibilities and strong narrative songs as an antidote to the clinically pristine and tightly marketed crooners we are served up on a daily basis via TV ads between Soaps. Choosing a selection of songs from Upstate Songs including Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares for Me” and Devon’s own “Come Comet or Dove” and a couple from her recent Keep Your Silver Shined album, “1340 Chesapeake Street” and the excellent “Old Virginia Block” as well as the superb title track, Devon went on to perform a couple of new as yet unreleased songs “A Picture of us in the Garden” and “Date Drive to Food Lion”, during her set, proving that her fluency in offbeat themes and song structures is almost limitless. Devon appears completely at ease with her surroundings and stands bolt upright behind her vintage 1954 ES125 Gibson – “as old as my dad” she quips – as she conveys her emotive songs to this Sheffield audience. There’s a moment towards the end of “A Picture of us in the Garden” where Devon stares into the spotlights above, completely immersed in song, humming the final coda, where she is completely in that place, totally unaware of her current environment. Devon’s relaxed approach to singing, which comes over as uncomplicated, unpretentious and completely natural, makes you the audience equally relaxed. Although Paul and Devon’s respective solo sets were delivered with assurance, with not a single throw-away song in either set, it was as a duo that they excelled on stage. It’s not just in the songs, the harmonies and the musical connection they both convey on stage that makes this couple so appealing, but the closeness they have in heaps that engages the audience. They are quite openly in love with one another and they don’t mind you knowing about it. For every one of those who may be irritated with this notion of wearing your heart on your sleeve, there’s plenty of us who find this a thoroughly endearing quality. Quite fitting for the eve of St. Valentine’s Day. The ‘duet’ set that concluded tonight’s Boardwalk appearance included Megan Huddleston’s uncompromising “The Things You Do”, Jeff Romano’s “Lucinda” and a pretty impressive instrumental guitar duet celebrating the couple’s visit to Liverpool earlier in the day with The Beatles’ “The Night Before” as well as a couple of Paul and Devon’s celebrated and timely Valentine Duets, Dave van Ronk’s arrangement of “Green Rocky Road” and the Hank Williams classic “Honky Tonkin’”, available for all as free downloads on their websites, crucial listening for those who have yet to discover Devon and Paul. All in all, spectacularly good.