Damien Jurado (from the album The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania available on Maraqopa Records)
Prolific and musically distinctive singer-songwriter Damien Jurado returns with a new album and a new record label, releasing The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania on his own Maraqopa Records. By all accounts, this is something of a deliberately home-spun venture, sonically speaking, inspired in part by projects such as Lou Reed's The Bells and Paul McCartney’s Ram. It is also a concept album of sorts, featuring ten tracks, each of which tells a story of “people determined not to be broken by dire circumstances.” Jurado is one of those rare artists with far too much talent and depth to hold fast to one particular genre or sound. It's no surprise to find he has ventured into new territory here, backed only by multi-instrumentalist Josh Gordon, who supplies bass, guitar, drums, percussion and keys.
Album opener “Helena” is indeed a stripped-back affair. Damien Jurado's distinctive voice, with its slight rough edge and yearning power, is as compelling as ever. ‘Stealing coins from the pockets of fools, laughter a currency we could never afford’ he sings over a simple backdrop of hand-percussion, finger-picked guitar, and gently intoned bass. It has long been Jurado's strength that, even when on far-flung cosmic adventures, he retains an easy ability to craft subtly captivating tunes without ever relying on obvious hooks. This is why he is eminently re-listenable. Constructed from basic building blocks though it may be, “Helena” nonetheless fits right into the Jurado discography.
Follower “Tom” shifts and bounces over a laid-back, colourful groove. ‘How many skies fell on your horizon line’ sings Jurado, unfurling a tale of circuses and wanderings. Lyrically and musically, Damien Jurado is never less than interesting; ‘can you not see that your audience is leaving?’. As with every track in this set, Damien Jurado and Josh Gordon inject nuanced twists and turns which raise these songs above the usual fare. This might be Jurado at his most straight-forward but, as ever, there is a welcome sense of experimentation and adventure, a balance between artist sophistication and rootsy accessibility.
“Minnesota” further treads this line, a bittersweet tale played out over skeletal, chiming guitar. It's a mark of Jurado's talent that he can make such a sparse setting feel so fully inhabited. “Joan” ups the tempo a little, with rolling, finger-picked patterns weaving a hypnotic spell. Subtle harmonizing casts shadows across a sunny vista. At just over a minute, it's remarkable how affecting this track is. In fact, every song here is memorable. The softly unwinding “Hiding Ghosts” is a perfect showcase for Jurado's vulnerable, captivating vocals. “Jennifer” is classic Damien Jurado. ‘I was the North wind, inhabiting you’ he sings over ringing guitars and nuanced echoes and tones. Closer, the enigmatically-titled “Male Customer #1”, takes us out on a tide of rhythm guitar and ghostly, reverberating vocals. ‘The loneliest place I've ever been is in your arms’ Damien Jurado intones.
The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania is a fine addition to this thoughtful musician's discography. (by Chris Wheatley)
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