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Virginia singer/songwriter Devon keeps searching for honesty.

Following the Path


The traveling-troubadour lifestyle fits songwriter Devon Sproule well. Raised on a Virginia commune by supportive parents, at an early age the young woman slipped into music with free-spirited ease. Now, at age 19, she has performed around the country as Devon for the past three years and she has a second independent CD in the stores. Her life is a whirl that both amazes and delights her.

"When you're going by the seat of your pants, you just do it," she explains as she shows a visitor around her Twin Oaks communal home 35 miles east of Charlottesville. "It's all a balance between feeling like I'm doing something…and [feeling] I can always do better."

Spend a little time with this Canadian-born singer and it becomes clear that this drive to do better involves constant musical growth and experimentation that springs from a mix of self-reliance and self-evaluation. Her environment played a hand in forming her questioning approach to life early-on.

"It was a great way for me to grow up," she says as she walks the woodland paths of Twin Oaks. "I was very encouraged here. … There were just so many interesting people around when I was growing up."

Growing up with creative folks far from suburban hustle put a distinct slant on Devon, and it comes through in her songs. Acoustic-based, the songs meander melodically from gentle ballads to rough-edged rock. Her voice stretches from hushed whisper to raw urgency. Situations are carefully considered lyrically, but often questions go unanswered. Love comes and goes. Music, laughter and poetry are the stuff of life.

The evolution of her music is witnessed by her latest CD, "Long Sleeve Story." It's much harder in approach than her earlier, folkier music. Devon explains she had been playing the songs for some time, and that while she's very proud of "Story" she needed to put those tunes behind her before she could move on.

"My music taste had moved here and my music was still here," she explains, first gesturing to the right and then the left. "I'm continually trying to find, like … a sound that feels real and honest. Not a style or genre but something that feels honest."

This search started when she was a young child after Devon's father, Gordon, gave her recorded tapes and they sang "dead teen-ager songs" together while he played guitar. She became a self-described "Beatles freak." At 11, she had her first guitar. Devon dropped out of school in the ninth grade, and by 15 she was writing her own tunes and playing on the mall in downtown Charlottesville, hanging out with musicians who were much older than she.

Through a former boyfriend she met a manager who booked her into Charlottesville clubs. She continued meeting more musicians — players she still credits as her greatest influences — creating a buzz, recording a CD and picking up a band.

"People were excited … taping shows, buying CDs," she recalls with a laugh.

She stayed based in Charlottesville for the next couple of years, playing regional gigs, working on her evolving sound, striving for that elusive perfection. After finishing "Story" in early 2001, Devon relocated to Woodstock, N.Y., to write songs, keep an extensive journal, work a day job, play gigs and soak up a new scene.

In September, she returned to Virginia and opened East Coast shows for Charlottesville guitar master Tim Reynolds in the fall. The young singer notes that, although she enjoys recording, stage performing is the focus.

"It's never been too hard to feel comfortable [on stage]," Devon says simply.

Devon clearly is pleased with the strides she's taken with her music in the past few years, and an excited glow beams from her face as she plays a tape of a new song for a visitor.

But it's also clear the young woman has her doubts and questions. There are also the expectations of others. But like other artists, she is lucky to have music as an outlet. At a young age, Devon's music will hit and miss, but it is always moving, growing and maturing.

"A lot of it is intuitive, yeah. … I still feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. But when people get interested…it can build up a lot of pressure."

Quick with a mischievous laugh, Devon can probably handle the pressure. With touring and recording a "no-big-deal kind of demo of the Woodstock songs" down the road, she's thoughtful, cautious and optimistic about the future.

"You're just going show by show, living your life and playing your music. It makes every show be big and

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