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Forgotten Albums: Keep Your Silver Shined

JMaxNovember 5, 2023 music, reviews
Album cover art for Keep Your Silver Shined, by Devon Sproule

Keep Your Silver Shined
Devon Sproule
Tin Angel Records 2007
americana • jazz • folk • bluegrass

I thought I’d have a go at some music criticism after listening to this album for the first time in about a decade. Keep Your Silver Shined is Virginia-based folksinger Devon Sproule’s third studio album, from 2007. I was very much enamoured of it when it was new, and listening to it again now I find it’s not only held up, but has even improved with changing contexts.

Devon Sproule is a bit of an odd duck: she was born on a hippie commune in Ontario, and spent much of her early life in similar circumstances in Virginia. She emerged as a talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist when still a teen. Her early records cover quite a bit of ground genre-wise as she searched for her voice. 2001’s Long Sleeve Story sounds like a folk-indie crossover, with electric guitars and growling vocals; the followup, Upstate Songs (2003) instead showcased Sproule’s introspective voice and subtle acoustic guitar. That album contains what is probably her best known tune, “Plea for a Good Night’s Rest,” a tender tale of a late-night haunting, with a welcoming response to the lonely revenant.

Around 2005 Sproule met and married Paul Curreri, a folk/blues musician in Virginia. Keep Your Silver Shined is her self-described “wedding album,” the songs all exploring a kind of happiness and contentment in place that seems to me a rare, almost nostalgic pleasure. Keep Your Silver Shined also represents Sproule’s leaning in to jazz. Unlike her earlier indie/folk approach, this album features a full band (clarinet, accordion, pedal steel, banjo, string bass, and drums) and the arrangements mostly centre the band rather than Sproule’s own (often stupendous) guitar playing. Her later albums took a different approach entirely, seemingly aiming for a smoother, simpler folkie-dreampop approach. But Keep Your Silver Shined is full-on acoustic rave-up.

The songs explore her exultation in a particular kind of domestic bliss, rooted in a specific place (that is, semi-rural Virginia); the lyrics are full of references to steamy summer days, overgrown gardens, second-hand stuff, long shadows on the water, and a house full of good friends. Most of the performances here are hoppin’, in contrast with the more introspective vibe of her other albums. Her singing and guitar playing are just off the hook on this album; she is so clearly inside these songs that her vocal – and fingerboard – flights of fancy come off as utterly spontaneous and free.

But it’s really the songwriting that makes this album. The songs on Keep Your Silver Shined are sophisticated, fully formed country-jazz compositions. Several reviewers speak in terms of her “contributions to the Great American Songbook,” and indeed, some of these would be standards, if only they were better known. A couple in particular—the languid “Drop By Anytime” and the backyard jazz of “Let’s Go Out” are masterpieces. The title track’s ode to domestic bliss goes on for verse after verse, while the album opener, “Old Virginia Block” manages at least twice as many words per line in the 3rd verse as it had in the first! In all, the poetry of these tunes is overflowing: Sproule is so evidently inspired on this record, the words pour out in great cascades, the wordplay and rhythms tumbling forth so effortlessly. The only comparison I can think of is Maria McKee’s (2020) La Vita Nuova, similarly inspired a watershed moment in the songwriter’s life.

Keep Your Silver Shined concludes with a bluegrass duet with fellow Virginia resident Mary Chapin Carpenter that is great but also an odd match with the rest of this album, which otherwise is so personal, so open, so ebullient. Call it a bonus track then. In any case, if you don’t know this album, go listen to it now, and remember it when you need a little lift.

Here it is on Spotify: