Keep Your Silver Shined
There are only a handful of musicians good enough to pack the house with other musicians, and Devon Sproule is one. She is a magnet to them as much as music is a magnet to her. B.J. Cole knows. Legendary pedal steel player with 70s country rockers Swallow and much sought after session man, Cole seeks Sproule out when she visits the UK and backs her up whenever the chance arises. Austin's Danny Schmidt, a talent in his own right, says simply, “It's a good thing she's such a sweetheart or we'd all hate her.” And Paul Curreri says... but Curreri is tied to Sproule by marriage and we all know that whatever he says cannot be used in a court of law.
So, why the attraction? Take a look at the photos on Sproule's website and check out those fingers splayed across the neck of the guitar like octopus tentacles. Sample a few tracks from her albums on her MySpace page and listen closely to that mature but little girl voice. Hear those chord progressions and try to remember when, or if, you've heard them before. I tell you, as much her music makes you comfortable, it drags you into new territory at every turn. Call what she does pop jazz, or folk pop jazz, or poppy jazz folk and you would only be partly correct. When push comes to shove, most will agree, Sproule plays Sproule, which should be the subtitle of this excellent album.
The truly amazing thing about Keep Your Silver Shined is the ease with which Sproule approaches her songs. Fully confident and incredibly competent, her fingers float over the strings of her guitar (and banjo one one track--- you have to love that--- jazz banjo?) more like a masseuse than a musician. Chords drift or slice or chop through the ether depending upon mood and need, and even Devon Sproule leads breathe lounge jazz into a piece or two. She can play, no doubt about it, and hold her own with the big boys.
She can sing as well and, again, with that confidence and ease which almost disarms you as a mere listener and turns you into fan. And through her songs we learn all about Devon Sproule and her love of Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains, her love of music and her love of, well, life. Old Virginia Block is a light folk jazz tribute to home, upbeat and hearty. Let's Go Out playfully takes a lighthearted look at a night out to relieve boredom (check out Sproule's masterful and understated guitar), and Stop By Anytime mixes jazz standard with voice and produces a truly wistful feel. It doesn't get any folkier on the album than Paul Curreri's Eloise and Alex, a beautiful track which allows Sproule and Curreri to meld voices, something they should consider doing more often.
Two tracks really caught my ear, though: Dress Sharp, Play Well, Be Modest, with a hot afternoon, God-but-ain't-it-hot-today presentation carried along by the fine pedal steel of Charlie Bell (and, again, the spot-on Sproule guitar), and the one track not jazz-influenced, a modern presentation of the fine old traditional tune , The Weeping Willow (Curreri's guitar on this one track is worth the price of the CD alone). Beautiful tracks, both, and as major league as it gets.
Though this is a Devon Sproule project, it is not all Devon Sproule. She surrounded herself with a great array of musicians and the production and mixing by Jeff Romano is totally thumbs up. You know what they say about a village these days.
Really, I'm inspired. This is not my kind of music, or so I thought, and then again I've never heard it done this good. Because of this, I've added three things to my list: 1: See the Blue Ridge Mountains; 2: Drink Starr Hill Amber and hear Sandy Grey's guitar; and 3: check out Paul Curreri. As good as this album is, I figure if Devon Sproule married him, he must have something to offer beyond the norm. I figure that's not far from wrong.
- Frank Gutch