Devon Sproule

Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review and Interview by Allan Wilkinson

A bit of a coup for the little Wheelhouse in Wombwell tonight, as Devon Sproule stopped over for a one-off house concert, fresh from her appearance at the Tallinn Music Week in Estonia, which took place over the weekend.  Playing solo, the Charlottesville, Virginia-based singer-songwriter showcased each and every song from her new as yet to be released sixth studio album I Love You, Go Easy due out on general release sometime in May.

Dividing her two sets tonight between the established repertoire in the first half, leaving the brand new songs for the second, Devon eased herself into the first set with the jazz inflected “Let’s Go Out”, gently picking and strumming her prized 1954 f-hole Gibson throughout.  Relaxed enough to ask the audience to shout up any particular song they wished to hear, Devon went on to perform material from her back catalogue and in particular her last two studio albums Keep Your Silver Shined (“Stop By Anytime”, “Keep Your Silver Shined”, “Old Virginia Block”) and Don’t Hurry for Heaven (“Ain’t That the Way”, “Julie”, “Don’t Hurry For Heaven”) as well as a couple of older songs, including the gorgeous “Plea For a Good Night’s Rest” from her Upstate Songs period.

The first of the new songs “The Warning Bell” appeared during the first set, which Devon explained was an updated version of “Hang on the Bell Nellie”, learned from an old song book entitled Rise Up Singing.  This was a brief hint at what was to come in the second half.  With a strong, if sometimes vulnerable voice, never afraid to go for the note that her characteristically frail voice could never actually reach, the singer’s reputation as being a slightly eccentric singer came across loud and clear; but that’s precisely what makes Devon Sproule different, special, interesting and unique. The only non-original song played in the first half was The Beatles’ “The Night Before”, which Devon prefaced by admitting some self-indulgence, a song previously heard as an instrumental played on many occasion beside husband Paul Curreri.

It was brave of Devon to reveal every song from her forthcoming album one after the other in the second half, particularly in view of the fact that the new songs show a marked shift in direction for the songwriter.  Describing the new material as minimalist, a little simpler and more personal, Devon seems to have dropped the highly melodic song structures for a more stripped-down meditative approach to song writing, highlighting her vulnerability as a singer even more than before.

Despite the first set being for all intents and purposes an overview of her career so far, with some of the singer’s best loved songs, it was the second set that pushed the boundaries, which in turn challenged the senses, with some of the most daring songs of her career thus far.  With song titles such as “I Love You, Go Easy”, “Monk/Monkey” and get this, “The Evening Ghost Crab”, Devon Sproule is all set for the next phase in an already extraordinary career.

The new album is made up entirely of Sproule originals except for “Runs in the Family”, written by Terre Roche and “Body’s in Trouble” by Mary Margaret O’Hara.  Devon also performed “Flowers (Eurydice’s Song)”, one of the songs from the new ‘folk opera’ Hadestown, written by Anais Mitchell, which retells the Orpheus myth.  Finishing off with something more conventional, the old Nina Simone song “My Baby Just Cares For Me”, Devon certainly left an impression and served up some food for thought.