When asked for five words that would best describe Colours – the creation of her recent musical union with Mike O’Neill – Devon Sproule suggested “blue under a robin’s nest”. Taken from the last line of the album’s title track these words vividly convey a connection having been made between an individual and something of great natural, yet imperfect beauty. Repeated listening to this record reveals exactly what she means.
With a joint Canadian heritage, Sproule and O’Neill were further drawn together through her Low-Key Karaoke project wherein she invited people to send videos of themselves singing the melody of a well-known cover song for which she had already recorded the harmony line. The Everly Brothers’ ‘Crying in the Rain’ and The Beach Boys’ ‘In My Room’ were the songs in question and these sublime pop jewels are a perfect illustrations of the pair’s shared musical sensibilities. Despite being only in her very early thirties, Sproule came to the table with a fourteen year recording career, one immersed in the depths of roots, folk and country and spanning seven albums, whilst O’Neill brought to the party a more raw, harder edge, one born of his extensive work with indie-rockers The Inbreds and a subsequent solo career that shows a keen ear for the true essence of the popular song.
Yet this is a collaboration that first defies, and then moves beyond broad categorization. It is one based upon the key principles of mutual trust and respect and from this foundation Sproule and O’Neill have flourished. Colours is a warm, informal affair whose relaxed momentum builds from the very start. The incessant shuffle of ‘You Can Come Home’, caught in the twin headlights of Thom Gunn’s gleaming guitar never breaks stride, not even for one second. And the way that the two principals’ voices effortlessly dovetail on the exquisite ‘You Can’t Help It’ and the album’s most self-assured title track brings to mind country legends Bobby Bare and Skeeter Davis cast in modern repose.
With its wonderfully understated brass accompaniment ‘The Fan’ is an atmospheric heat-haze of what is the very best in American roots music. It is vaguely reminiscent of a mid-nineties Shawn Colvin. Other rather loose touchstones could just as easily be Josh Rouse’s 1972, those transitional mid-seventies albums of Joni Mitchell or the works of doomed singer-songwriter Judee Sill. But forget all about genres or potential musical reference points. Instead choose another five words to describe it and just sit back and enjoy Colours for what it most surely is, a really mighty fine album.
Colours is out now on Tin Angel Records