Review Summary: Intimate acoustic folk songs, with great story telling lyrics, that’ll break your heart.
Sub Pop Records, September 19, 2000
Damien Jurado is a singer-songwriter from Seattle, Washington who got his start in the mid 90’s releasing several cassette tape recordings, before catching the attention of famous Seattle indie label Sub Pop records. Ghost of David
is Jurado’s third release for Sub Pop (he would only release one more record for Sub Pop before leaving for Indiana’s Secretly Canadian), and arguably the best album in Jurado’s very prolific career (his back catalogue includes 11 full-lengths and a handful of EP’s and 7 inches) . Although it could be argued that Ghost of David
isn’t Jurado’s best album, it certainly is his most bleak and depressing album.
The album starts off with “Medication”, acoustic guitar picking, sparse backing instrumentation, and soft vocals. Pretty typical for singer-songwriter folk music, but what sets Jurado apart is how good his story telling lyrics are, and how well they work with his music. “Medication” tells the story of a man who is having an affair with a police officer’s wife, and whose brother is mentally unstable. The police officer becomes suspicious of his wife and the brother’s condition worsens to the point of being put into a mental institution. The song’s climax comes when Jurado pleads ‘Lord do me a favor, it’s wrong but I ask you, take my brother’s life’
over a strummed guitar and chiming bells.
The next three songs follow a similar path, although “Johnny Go Riding” and “Great Today” are a tad more upbeat. The fifth track “Tonight, I Will Retire”, a song completely driven by light percussion and a repeating piano melody, is an almost hopeful suicide song (it’s not too depressing if you go to heaven right?), but the song ends with Jurado’s fragile voice crooning ‘if I should taste fire, save me not, I deserve to die’.
It’s not all acoustic laments though; well okay “Parking Lot” is another sad song (this time about a failed relationship), but this time Rosie Thomas’ airy and charming vocals takes center stage over almost tribal drumming and sunny instrumentation (especially when compared to the rest of the album). If there’s a song that’s out of place on Ghost of David
it would be “Paxil”. The song finds Damien yelling over a rough electric guitar and a heavy rhythm section, but as separated as “Paxil” is from the other songs tonally, “Paxil” still works within the unique atmosphere Jurado has created on Ghost of David
. “Ghost in the Snow” brings the album to a close, and it does so wonderfully. The song features no vocals just two electric guitars meandering along in a very ‘post rock-ish’ way before an alarm clock’s ring interrupts the guitars and ends the song.
The intimate and icy atmosphere of Ghost of David
(at times the songs sound as though they were recorded live) coupled with Jurado’s amazing lyrics and a surprising amount of variation makes Ghost of David
one of the better folk albums released this decade.
“Johnny Go Riding”
“Tonight, I Will Retire”
“Ghost in the Snow”