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With so many great singer songwriters about these days, especially in light of the fact that MySpace creates one per minute, it's becoming rare for me to want to dwell on just the one for more than is absolutely necessary. Tonight however, as soon as Devon Sproule played the last note on her prized ES125 1954 Gibson, I wanted to rewind and start over again, and I dare say once again even after that.
Playing a solo support spot to Rachel Unthank and the Winterset at the Drill Hall in Lincoln, Devon captivated the audience with a handful of memorable songs, delivered in her offbeat and delightful quirky fashion. I am reminded of a pre-MacColl Peggy Seeger, the way Ewan MacColl once described her, as a young American college girl on foreign shores with worn out plimsolls and filthy neck that hasn't been washed in weeks. The waif-like Sproule is neither American nor does she possess a filthy neck, but she certainly has that youthful charisma and a stage presence that immediately captivates you, as Seeger must have had in the Fifties.
Almost totally obscured by her guitar, Devon sang a handful of what I like to refer to as 'story songs', songs that have a tale to tell. Like Gillian Welch before her, Devon comes across as something of a throw back to simpler times. Her Virginia roots come over much clearer than her actual Canadian roots, where she was born.
Opening with Plea For A Good Night's Rest from her 'Upstate Songs' album, lightly brushing her fingers against the strings of her vintage guitar, the 'love of her life after her husband' she tells us, the audience is hushed to complete silence. It has been a long time since I have been instantly drawn in, usually it takes three of four songs, but tonight it was instant. Where's the T Shirt stand?
Julie, a song from the Found Magazine project, could quite easily have been written by Nanci Griffith and wouldn't have been out of place on the LAST OF THE TRUE BELIEVERS album. It is that sort of story telling that we were presented with in the wake of the 'New Country' giants of the late Eighties, but with an updated 'Kooky' edge. ('Kooky' is Becky Unthank's description I hasten to add.)
With a nod to fellow Canadian Neil Young (to include a tribute to either Mitchell, Cohen, Young or a McGarrigle or two appears to be practically a national duty according to Sproule) Don't Let It Bring You Down is given the inimitable Sproule treatment.
Finishing with Old Virginia Block, from her fourth and much praised album KEEP YOUR SILVER SHINED, the song should probably have fallen flat on it's face without the support of the full band, and in particular the double bass slapping of Randall Pharr and the flirty fiddling of Morwenna Lasko, but it once again comes down to the jewel that is the stripped down basic song. In the hands of such an inspiring performer as Devon Sproule, it works equally as well without all the trimmings.
The fact that Devon will be back stateside this weekend is particularly frustrating as I would have been keen to catch her once again. Ah well, maybe next year. Are you awake Cambridge?