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)