Devon Sproule's sixth album opens in typically bucolic fashion, with the limber-voiced songwriter musing mellifluously on the mossy, terrapin-filled pond of her childhood commune (perhaps the very same "goose-poop pond" referenced at the start of her previous album), but the record on the whole finds Sproule -- an Ontario-born lifelong Virginian, freshly transplanted to Berlin, who's probably best beloved in the U.K. -- traveling musically and thematically further afield from her rustic roots. I Love You, Go Easy, which feels every bit as warm, thoughtful, and generously gentle as the twofold sentiment contained in its title, was recorded in her native Canada with a fresh batch of collaborators -- free-thinking Toronto producer Sandro Perri (Polmo Polpo) and experimental folk-pop trio the Silt -- who work some small wonders with the album's breezily expansive textural palette, making tasteful use of flutes, clarinets, saxophones, brass, and a few unobtrusively burbling synthesizers alongside Sproule's trusty Gibson. The result is considerably removed from the country-informed folk that dominated (but never completely encapsulated) her earlier work; it's both her subtlest and jazziest effort to date, certainly sonically but also in its songwriting, which tends more than ever toward long, fluid melodic lines and loose, open-ended structures. And the songs, if not necessarily her most immediately captivating or endearingly winsome, are as artful, personable, elegant, and finely crafted as ever, revealing abundant charms and quirks with familiarity. They're also frankly, unapologetically personal, vehicles for Sproule to explore the nuances of her relationships and emotions but also to sort through her life and career goals (though the two tend to intersect, particularly when it comes -- as it often does -- to her husband, fellow singer/songwriter Paul Curreri).
"The Warning Bell" lays it all out, pondering her professional life ("On the nights the guitar feels right and I ain't sick of the songs/It's a pretty good job") and petty marital squabbles ("I grind my axe in the morning/Pick my bone at night") along with occasional observations on the physical environment ("Pretty much all the leaves on the mulberry tree came down overnight"), while "Now's the Time," not a Charlie Parker nod but a jaunty paean to forward motion that's probably the most immediate (and country-ish) thing here, runs down potential next moves with an eye toward practicality ("I could teach and support us both/And give clean living a real go"). Elsewhere, we veer into somewhat murkier, more abstruse lyrical territory, as on the intriguingly funky "The Unmarked Animals" and the quizzical, gently swung "Monk/Monkey," but the album's central concerns -- getting older, acknowledging corporeal limitations, trying to live well and compassionately -- remain evident throughout. Those themes are also present in "Runs in the Family" and "Body's in Trouble," two well-selected covers and the album's sparsest moments, delivered with only Sproule's bluesy, minimalist self-accompaniment and substantially reshaped to suit her distinctive style. Incidentally, both find Sproule taking on the work of highly esteemed writers (Terre Roche and Mary Margaret O'Hara) who are, like herself, difficult to classify and equally difficult not to admire, though generally, as these things go, unjustly underappreciated. Hopefully, I Love You, Go Easy will help to change the latter; it certainly deserves to.