Beguiling singer and storyteller Devon Sproule’s songs are so evocative they could be used as adverts for her home town. Rachel Devine gets in a state
If the Virginia tourist board ever needs an advertising jingle to sell their leafy state, they could do worse than ask Devon Sproule to pen them a song.
Sproule’s latest album, Keep Your Silver Shined, is the sound of Virginia condensed into ten songs. It is balmy nights on the back porch and languorous walks through the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s ye olde America from a fresh perspective for a new generation.
‘The thing that tickles me most about people who like the album in the UK is that they always say something about how it makes them want to move to Virginia,’ says Sproule, in her treacle drawl. ‘People tell me it sounds pretty nice in Virginia and that perhaps they might like to sit on a porch there. It’s so far away from the way y’alls life is so I guess it feels homey but exotic at the same time.’
Keep Your Silver Shined is Sproule’s fourth album but when she talks about how it was made it becomes clear that she sees it as the start of her musical journey. ‘It’s way better and best,’ she says with a titter of self-satisfaction. It was written during the most important love affair of her life, her engagement and marriage to her husband Paul Curreri, who will share the bill with Sproule on a tour of Europe this month, including dates in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
‘I guess it’s natural that bits of my life make it into my songs,’ says Sproule (the artwork of the album is made up of her wedding photos). ‘But it also came about as a result of me discovering genres of music that I felt comfortable with and that suited the feel of the record. I didn’t feel limited to playing music that’s indigenous to Virginia or anything.’
Born in Canada and brought up in a commune in the Virginian countryside, Sproule started playing guitar from an early age and was already performing by 15, singing cover versions of Liz Phair songs at open mic sessions in and around her home town of Charlottesville. Her particular brand of Americana occupies a space balanced with the feisty folk charms of Joni Mitchell and the jazz and swing sounds of the 1930s and 40s. It’s sunny and optimistic but tinged with gentle pathos. Dressed in her 1940s dresses, with an oversized vintage Gibson slung around her neck, she wouldn’t look out of place in the Carter Family.
But touring with her husband, with whom she works closely in and out of the studio, has its drawbacks. ‘We do like being apart because it keeps things special – but I suppose being away from Virginia keeps things special too.’
While they are missing a traditional Valentine’s Day duet concert they play every year in Charlottesville, the pair will finish every night with a few romantic duets. Sproule is reluctant to reveal the set list but admits one is by reggae band Black Uhuru.
‘You don’t want to do it in a Jamaican accent but you also don’t want to be too white about,’ says Sproule with a nervous laugh. ‘It’s just a really cool song. People can make up their own minds when they hear it.’
If it makes them want to move to Jamaica then Sproule really does have the magic touch.