“I asked God for a good job. He put me on a plane. All of the people that I love, the people that I’m from, are far away.”
So begins ¡Don’t Hurry for Heaven!, the new record from Canadian-born songwriter Devon Sproule. Perhaps a hint of homesickness is understandable. Not only did Ms. Sproule spend much of the last two years touring abroad, her new album -- produced by husband Paul Curreri and featuring the pedal steel playing of the legendary BJ Cole -- was recorded, for the most part, in England.
“Last year was a good one,” Sproule says, “and full of adventures. I drove myself all the way from Scotland on the left side of the road for a radio show. I learned the intro to “Johnny B. Goode” before 8am in a Spanish hotel. I even smoked a J with Lucinda Williams and kept my cool.”
“Musically,” she continues, “after a whole summer of festivals in the UK, my band was feeling great. Everything was. It wasn’t even raining that much! It would’ve been a shame not to capture something from that time, to let that phase of our playing evaporate into the next. So we booked this studio out in the country.”
Conveniently, Sproule’s husband, the formidable guitarist, songwriter and burgeoning producer Paul Curreri, was about to cross the pond for his own European tour. Curreri flew over three days early and under his direction, the group tracked eight songs at Far Heath Studios in Northamptonshire.
“They had donkeys and ducks and everything -- just like home!” laughs Curreri. “As for Dev’s band, they were tight when I got there. I never had to say, ‘Hey mister drummer, could you put a bit more ruffle in that rumba? Cool, daddio.’ Instead, it was just, ‘Great... Let’s have a beer and try one a little slower, a little lazier.’” From there, Curreri brought the tracks back to the couple’s home studio in Charlottesville, Virginia. A few weeks later, ¡Don’t Hurry for Heaven! was complete.
Continuing in the tradition of her previous works, ¡Don’t Hurry for Heaven! sports a variety of sonic influences: the title track -- a tipsy, twangy, spousal nudge -- wears a cowboy boot on one foot, and another on its head. The great Jesse Winchester, a fellow Southerner (and hero of Sproule’s), makes a cameo on the uber-groovy “Ain’t That the Way.” Sproule and Curreri even duet on a left-field, desert-bluesy version of Black Uhuru’s “Sponji Reggae.”
At the record’s thematic heart is a young woman longing for the daily hiccups of a balanced home (“On a drive, nowhere going, / Gravel popping, tape deck whirring, / Happy couple talk a back road, / Face a thistle with a backhoe”), even while lifelong dreams are quite literally coming true around her. The songs are about her friends, family, herself, her husband — or at least versions of them seen through the lens of geographical distance. But these character sketches ring bona fide; these people seem familiar. “I had a river growing up. I had a pond. / I had barely a secret. And now I have none.” Sproule roots for the home team, and she’s telling everybody.
Sproule’s domestic leanings, youthfulness, and romantic sense of humor are deepened by a hurling undercurrent of musical ambition and multi-genre awareness. The album’s solo, jazz-infused closer, “A Picture of Us in the Garden,” signs off with, “Honey, how are we supposed to ever have us a family / when the business won’t give us a buck? / I guess it’s lucky I’m still pretty young.” Perhaps it’s her effortless delivery of the deceptively complex melody, or her charmingly badass guitar work, or the economic poetics of her pleading, but the song throws into relief what lies at the root of all of these compositions -- an infectious vitality, a desire to push forward while continuing to love what got you this far.
Sproule's previous effort, 2007’s Keep Your Silver Shined was called “The sexiest, sultriest southern album since Lucinda’s “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” by Paste Magazine and featured singing from fellow-Virginian Mary Chapin Carpenter. Supporting the record, Sproule toured with Woodstock legend Richie Havens, Lambchop frontman Kurt Wagner, and supported back-to-back nights in London with Lucinda Williams. Sproule’s breakout record, Upstate Songs, was included in Rolling Stone's Critics Top Albums of 2003. In December 2009 at New York's Lincoln Center, the ASCAP Foundation awarded Sproule their prestigious Sammy Cahn Award for her lyric writing. She was the first American to grace the cover of fRoots in the new millennium, and her appearance on England’s trend-setting Later...With Jools Holland cocked the ears of fans and industry alike, informing them that yes, her surname does indeed rhyme with “rock ‘n roll.”
Born to hippie parents on a commune in Kingston, Ontario, Sproule claims dual citizenship with both Canada and the US. After moving between private, public and home schooling, she eventually left high school, recorded her first record, and began touring nationally -- all before the age of eighteen.