Damien Jurado – Where Shall You Take Me
By Paul Herman
Can singer-songwriters ever get old? Can beautiful songs really bother us? Will we turn against a singer because he plies his craft in a reliable fashion, album after album – will we become bored? Yes, with some artists we will become bored: we want drama; we want a weak album followed with a soaring return to form, and somehow knocking out great songs time after times seems…predictable, safe, and very un-rock.
Somehow, though, Damian Jurado has avoided this curse. Through album after album for reigning indie label Sub Pop, he has proven himself to be a world-class performer, ever-endearing even as he – or perhaps because he – is so consistent. Yes, the sound has changed, but the quality has not. The promotional machine has gone into overdrive, only to return to idle; the press has come and gone – and will continue to – but Jurado soldiers on as though he’d never read his own reviews.
After Waters Ave. S, Damian handed us the blissful, life-affirming Rehearsals for Departure. He chased that with the more “experimental” Postcards and Audio Letters, a collection of “found sounds” culled in part from thrift-store-acquired answering machines. That led to his next proper album Ghost of David, which has a soulful yet melancholy feel. Ghost was followed by the jagged, rocking I Break Chairs, a solid outing of distorted guitars and vocal hooks that went full-on, full-speed for thirty minutes straight.
Damian’s new album, Where Shall You Take Me (Secretly Canadian), is yet another solid outing, making one wonder when his streak might end. It’s something of a return to form after the “rock” that was I Break Chairs.
The story that each song weaves is a large part of what makes his repetoire so consistently fascinating. Jurado has an incredible way of changing the emotional direction of the record at the drop of a hat. “Amateur Night”, seemingly about a murder, somehow flows seamlessly into “Omaha”, the reflection of a man back to his childhood, spent driving around with his father. The switch is so smooth you never stop and think about the significant change in subject matter.
These changes happen musically as well. The lion’s share of the songs are based on traditional folk guitar sounds, but on this album they are accompanied by auxiliary sounds from synths, organs, programmed percussion, as well as traditional rock tools (electric guitar, bass, and drums). Damien has managed to really mix things up without making any disconcerting content changes – somehow it all blends together.
A new Jurado album is always a pleasure. While this is not his Nebraska – it must be said that “Intoxicated Hands” and “Tether” drag a bit; the collection is not perfect – it is as close to “flawless” as anyone is going to hear this year. – (7/10)