Devon Sproule: “Don’t Hurry for Heaven”
It all comes back to the setting: When last we heard from Devon Sproule, she was singing about love, family, and contentment– in a word, about home, a concept of belonging and familiarity that informed not only the words, but also the music of her 2007 record Keep Your Silver Shined. Laid-back and warm with collegial affection and mutual respect between the musicians, the album resembled a collection of front-porch strum-alongs, and lyrics and music alike captured a strong sense of place, a geographic tie to the singer’s native Virginia– which made perfect sense, given that that’s where the album was recorded.
Two years later and we have Don’t Hurry for Heaven, and album whose flashy, almost psychadelic cover art– standing in stark contrast to the more muted, classical feel of her previous album covers– makes it clear from the start that this isn’t exactly a typical Devon Sproule album– and how could it be? This album was recorded not in her native Virginia, but in Great Britain; and, rather than recording with a group of like-minded, country and folk musicians, she cut this one with her touring band.
But here’s what this album is not: It’s not Devon Sproule’s attempt at making a European album; it’s still very much rooted in the old-timey jazz and country styles of her past work. And it’s not a quote-unquote road album, wherein the singer wearily sighs about the hardships of the touring life. Rather, this is an album about transition– which is not the same as a transitional album, mind you– wherein Sproule doesn’t sever her geographic ties, but rather branches out from them, using them as a foundation and feeding into the creative energy of her road band to make an album that’s quirky and idiosyncratic without being indulgent or aimless.
Opening track “Ain’t That the Way” is as good an example as any of the album’s aesthetic. It’s a winking, knowing take on life’s ups and downs and general unpredictability, wherein the singer prays for a good man but neglects to mention that she “wants to see him every day.” Easy come, easy go. It’s funny and a tad irreverent, but its humor is rooted in real-life empathy and observation, as is the whole album, a scrapbook of rich and humorous sketches of people whose lives are in transition, their desires in flux, their hearts in motion. She doesn’t reject the sense of roots and belonging that characterized her earlier works, but she does offer a sort of counter-perspective; “Good to Get Out” is the most obvious example, a lilting road song that celebrates the virtue of travel and escape. “Julie” flashes back in time to memories of a former roommate, while the title cut is a sly and funny country love song that’s at once pained and content in its longing.
It’s a remarkably of-the-moment recording for an artist who generally exudes a close connection to her roots, though this album is no less rooted than anything else she’s ever done; it’s just that here, she’s feeding off the energy of her traveling musicians and the creative refresher offered by a change in location. So, her musical interests and influences are put together in different– and frequently exciting– ways; notice how the title track injects a bit of gospel into its country ballad form, or how the slinking “Ain’t That the Way” twists itself into a shape somewhere between rock and country. There’s also a surprising addition of reggae influences here– at least rhythmically– in a handful of cuts– surely an innovation from her road band, who fill these songs with warmth and humor and energy.
And indeed, their contributions do nothing if not prove how good of a fit they are for Sproule; their contributions mirror her own sly humor, flirtatious wit, and sense of mischief, making this an undeniably sexy and playful album, always marked by whimsy but never by immaturity or lack of purpose. Although come to think of it, purpose may not be the best way to think about this album; more than anything, this is the sound of a great group of musicians relishing the moment, the creative engagement, the chance to try new things and leave loose ends, all of which add up to an album that’s utterly charming and engaging.