23rd September 2017

Spellbinding Sproule shares isles-inspired creations

“I’m just a hobo with a hunchback,” quipped songstress Devon Sproule with her little one wrapped in a blanket, seemingly fast asleep on her back.

The quirky North American singer-songwriter returned to Shetland with a fresh batch of songs from a writing residency in Culswick three years ago.

Last night’s cosy Quarff hall venue proved the perfect setting as Sproule snarled and swayed at the mic among on the candles and fairy lights.

Luscious bass and warm, shimmering guitar crunch formed the underpinnings of Sproule’s setlist.

Lyrically unique and wonderfully obscure, lines of a frog sounding like a raven and “I’ve got a hot pepper with fingerprints” popped out of out the speakers with panache.

The latter, in Newest Oldest Chapter, was a reference to a pregnancy app which Sproule had downloaded on her phone.

Each day informing her what size of vegetable her baby was now equivalent to.

“It’s been wonderful reconnecting with some of the young mothers of Shetland,” she smiled.

Clearly, she feels a connection to the place and admitted by now she has played a Shetland country hall or two.

Family, love and interconnection are strong themes in her new material and her sources of inspiration are intriguing.

The mellow, groove-laden Drawing Circles melted into three-part harmonies and had heads bobbing along in the audience.

Meanwhile, the chugging You Can Come Home, with its bitter-sweet lead lines and blues-flavoured chord progressions, soared with sass and style.

Sproule oozes a mystical musicality from her delicate, chiming guitar playing to her foot-stomping, percussive palm-rubbing accompaniments.

Opening the night local duo Matthew Adam and Lewis Hall played a varied collection of covers and self-penned material.

Adam’s voice has a purity, honesty and warmth beyond his years. Uyea showed his skills as a fine storyteller, painting pictures of the shoreline and the dramatic scenery so many take for granted.

Tenderly delivered the hall was silent.

Hall’s playing was sensitive and free-flowing, from cascading keys to gentle chord progressions.

I am sure I’m not the only one that will be hoping for some recordings in future.

Baby Copperhead – New York City-based Ben Lee – had echoes of Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen.

However, it was a vocal style that lacked the dynamic range and musical fluidity of Sproule’s.

The banjo and guitar player chose a mixture of effects to accompany the former, with a whistling introduction to a distinctive take of David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes.

Personally, I preferred the straight-up banjo sound as the overlapping melodies became muddy with the delay and echoes of finger-picking.

Nevertheless, it was a gig of variety and an intriguing shift from familiar folk music.

About Adam Guest

Reporter for The Shetland Times. I have also worked as a senior news reporter at The Press and Journal, The Barnsley Chronicle and as a freelance reporter for The Doncaster Free Press. Alongside news reporting I specialise in music and sports journalism. Pork pie lover.

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