Damien Jurado – All That’s Great, Good and Exasperating in a Singer-Songwriter

Hybrid Soc Prof

Your Anti-anti-intellectual Correspondent from a State Surrounded by Water

The forms of authenticity/DIY-sensibility to which musicians seem to return most regularly – as an alternative to the major label, corporate world of professional song-writing for professional singers backed by professional session players for professional producers in preparation for professionally dressed and quaffed interviews and tours supported by other professional musicians, dancers, etc. – is that of “the singer-songwriter.” Either that or it’s a form all manner of musicians with poetic aspirations, or lyricists with musical goals, find to fit well with working alone.

Too often, I equate “singer-songwriter” with folk because so often the music’s acoustic and the voice – however magnificent – apparently amateurish. Folks here have noted that I can get over-concerned with genre, guilty as charged… but, since I teach elements of this stuff most semesters, periodizations and categories seem to be the predicate of initial clarity for students before – as Donna Haraway calls it – I return to Staying with the Trouble.

Damien Jurado is definitely a singer-songwriter and every problem I have with that tradition exists in his discography. When he hits the sweet spot, his intimate, observational, empathic, lyrical intelligence swims within a vast, sparse acoustic soundscape which sometimes swells to an incrementally accelerated anthemic modality that just sucks me in.

However, in the making of this ICA, I found myself repeatedly exasperated (is that redundant?) by the extent to which Jurado has a sound, and mode of singing, and a pace of delivery that’s too consistent… at times his songs all run into one another – even the better ones. (I did have 22 songs to consider, but in gathering them and selecting among them, I often wanted to have something more specific to help me choose one over another.) The themes of place, relationships and movement are central – and evocatively presented – in Jurado’s efforts but, too often, it’s more of the same and I lose interest and find myself paying no attention to the lyrics or the music. And then the best song on whichever record it is reaches out and draws me in and I can’t pay attention to much of anything else.

Almost every record he’s generated has at least one really excellent song, but too many only have one or two… Caught in the Trees (2008) has a few, but the most consistent records are the next three: St. Bartlett (which made a good bit of noise when it was released in 2010), Mariqopa (2012) and Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son (2014). As is my wont, this ICA starts quieter and ends louder, though loud for Damien Jurado leans On the Beach more than the electric side of Rust Never Sleeps.

  1. Ohio, from Rehearsals For Departure (1999)
  2. There Goes Your Man, from And Now That I’m In Your Shadow (2006)
  3. Working Titles, from Maraqopa (2012)
  4. Rachel & Cali, from Saint Bartlett (2010)
  5. Go First, from Caught In The Trees (2008)
  6. Exit 353, from Visions of Us on the Land (2016)
  7. Silver Timothy, from Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son (2014)
  8. Sucker, from On My Way to Absence (2005)
  9. Texas To Ohio, from Where Shall You Take Me? (2003)
  10. Wallingford, from Saint Bartlett (2010)



  1. I’m only familiar with Rehearsals for Departure.
    Looking forward to giving this a listen

  2. Another friend back in play — good to see you HSP!
    I lost track of Jurado after Caught in the Trees, so I’m looking forward to catching up wit this set.

  3. Hope you like it CC, how kind O_L!! (hope the selections were to your liking), and, JTFL, it’s good to be back (started a few weeks ago with Mark Lanegan covers/collabs)… more pending.
    On a side note, I saw The Dream Syndicate’s final 40th Anniversary of The Days of Wine and Roses tour, in Grand Rapids over the weekend… that band is so unbelievably tight, Steve Wynn is in great shape even as his voice ages, decreasing the bass but adding tannins.

  4. Great review, JC! The show here was similar, though it seems they gave themselves some latitude with encores. The house lights came up before the encore’s encore – which we assumed would be John Coltrane – could be called forth.

  5. I enjoyed these Damien Jurado tracks. I thought I was unfamiliar with his work, but it appears I purchased Silver Timothy as an iTunes download back in 2014. An event I had completely forgotten. It deserves more plays than it’s had.

  6. A mighty fine addition to the ICA series. I’m with HSP when he says that Jurado’s songs sometimes seem to ‘…run into one another…’, but when he’s good he’s very good indeed, particularly his work with the great and much missed genius Richard Swift.

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