Damien Jurado – Saint Bartlett

January 01, 1970

(Secretly Canadian)




Ten records into an impressive but often-overlooked solo
career, Seattle’s
Damien Jurado continues to turn out compelling narrative fare with emotional
resonance far exceeding that of his more successful singer-songwriter peers. Jurado
eschews the woe-is-me confessionals that most sad bastards with acoustic
guitars rely on, instead convincingly adopting the various voices of desperate
outsiders, spurned or cheating lovers, the mentally ill, or the painfully
self-conscious. While he’s experimented sonically some with the formula – with
smashing results on the full-band rock of I
Break Chairs
, and disastrously with the answering machine snippets of Postcards and Audio Letters – variations
in Jurado’s musical are nuanced, not redefining.


And why should they be anything more? Teamed here with
Richard Swift, Jurado adds his label-mate’s penchant for Spector layers (think
Swift’s The Novelist) to about half
the dozen songs here, and to great effect. “Cloudy Shoes” opens on a hopeful
note well-suited to the mellotron strings and call-and-response vocals that
give the song its cavernous, open-armed sound, while double-tracked drums,
Beach Boys harmonies and plinking piano do much the same for tracks like
“Arkansas,” “Throwing Your Voice” and “Kalama.” Still, Jurado’s stories are
more Raymond Carver than O. Henry, as illustrated by the back-and-forth between
the characters in “Rachel & Cali” (whose syncopated strum recalls Wilco’s
“How To Fight Loneliness”) – “Rachel, would it be alright if stayed here in the
car? There’s too many people out there I don’t know/It’s not that I’m too shy
or cannot be polite, I just don’t feel comfortable in crowds.”


Elsewhere, Jurado drops the Spector textures entirely,
reverting to familiarly sparse territory accented with the occasional Neil
Young touch (the Crazy Horse guitars and feedback outro of “Wallingford”)
or a Mark Linkous-like use of radio static (“Kansas City” and “Harborview”). And that
turns out to be the record’s sole flaw – the first four songs sound like Jurado
is at ease with Swift’s production; the rest sounds like he’s unsure if that’s
the direction he should go. It’s no deal-breaker because Jurado’s songs stand
on their own, but the change of sonic scenery that Swift suggests might bring
that fact to more people’s attention.


“Cloudy Shoes” “Arkansas”




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