It should be said right off the bat: Upstate Songs is the album the world has been waiting to hear from Devon Sproule. It is the dramatic leap into truly memorable, engaging, and quality songwriting few artists ever achieve -- and of those few, fewer still achieve when their careers are just at their beginnings. On her first two long-players, Devon (2000) and Long Sleeve Story (2001), Sproule hinted that she was on her way to the absolutely excellent songcraft presented here, showing fistfuls of creativity and the initiative to pull off ambitious melodies, but up until Upstate Songs she had yet to write the set of songs that fulfilled her significant potential. Long Sleeve Story, produced by Dave Matthews Band bassist Stefan Lessard, came close with a few phenomenal tracks like "Fast Statue" but, for the most part, the album tended to wander into territory Sproule seemed to just settle for instead of taking the time to really develop -- however, it was easy to let it slide due to the fact that she was only 19 when Long Sleeve Story came out. With Upstate Songs, her musical vision is no longer aimless nor is her image, which on her previous releases clashed with the music it represented. Where previously she had truncated her name to just Devon, she has released this album under her full name with artwork that much more accurately augments its contents: a direct, sincere and elegant no-frills recording that fully showcases the remarkable guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist Sproule is.
Gentle, poetic, classy, and achingly gorgeous, Upstate Songs is the chronicle of Sproule's pilgrimage to upstate New York from her home in Virginia to find the proper place to accentuate in spirit the delicate intricacies of the songs written for this record. From the opening track, the stark and cozy "Plea for a Good Night's Rest," Upstate Songs links arms with the floating atmosphere of a summer evening and cycles through the subtle dynamics of two acoustic guitars, played skillfully by Sproule and co-producer Paul Curreri -- the only break from this instrumentation being the viola ribbon weaving through "Tristan and Isolde" and the band accompaniment on "Should Have Been Snow." It speaks volumes that these songs can stand so strongly without the need for elaborate arrangements to retain the listener's attention, deftly proving that Sproule needs nothing to hide behind. She must be proud of this effort; one gets the impression that she may have even surprised herself with the quality of songs represented here, because the truth is that many artists never reach a point in their careers that is this solid -- and keeping in mind she was only 21 at the time of this release makes the album even more exciting knowing that plenty more should come. But regardless of what comes next, Upstate Songs is so honest, so well-crafted, and so effortlessly played that the album exudes timelessness, so the question is not if, but when will the world find ears to hear it.