Review Summary: Halfway through and Jurado starts to put us to sleep.
The release of a new Damien Jurado record reminds me of those periods around March and November when classes for your next semester of college must be picked and sorted through, credits tallied and schedules adjusted. This miracle by name of the course description
let’s you know what a certain class will be like - the general requirements and what exactly it is you will have the joy of dreading for two to three days a week, for the entirety of the term. Yada yada yada. Unfortunately, it’s rare for something like a professor description
to be beside each instructor of the class’ name when you sign up for a course, respectively leading you to a sort of “knowing what’s going to be handed to you, but not its means of delivery
Damien Jurado is like this mysterious professor, in a sense. Whatever record labels’ advertisements and reviews from publications of prior albums have told you before about his lyrics is likely to be there again on a new release; it’s just that Jurado is a changin’ man, coming to class each semester with a different means of teaching his craft. This isn’t to say that the Seattle storyteller hasn't been consistent in his quality of singer-songwriter material up until the present day – well as long as we forget the flaccid, black splotch that was 2006’s And Now That I'm In Your Shadow
, that is – it just means that you don’t know if he’s going to bring along a full band with a rockin’ agenda (2002’s I Break Chairs
) or just retreat to solely depressive, acoustic introspection (2000’s Ghost of David
). His staple tales of various cities and towns from his past and unforgettable love songs are bound to be on his agenda of topics to cover in any way he so chooses for each outing.
So what does the songwriter have on his lesson planner for this year’s Saint Bartlett
? He’s prepared a little of everything, really, though there is an obvious emphasis placed on his folk-ier roots. You’ll find a livelier Jurado for the first half of the album with a few piano and demanding mid-tempo drum-led tracks (“Clouded Shoes”, “Arkansas”, and “Throwing Your Voice”) and even a I Break Chairs
-esque distortion-run to be found in “Wallingford,” on which Jurado becomes the aggressive product of all those years spent in brooding melancholy: “Calling out, your voice is an echo / No words come back but your own
.” It’s a shame that such energy is soon wasted, though – negative as it may be – as once the prior track fades to close, “Pear” starts a pattern of acoustic slow-burners that begins to lull the lackeys in the back of the class to sleep, and even makes those attentive at the front droopy-eyed as they try to stay focused.
That’s not to say that Jurado is a bore to listen to when he turns things down, however; in fact, the best moments of his career, 2000's Ghost of David
and 2003's Where Shall You Take Me
, are those of which that make up the primarily sole acoustic model for the second half of Saint Bartlett
. The only problem is that these tracks seem fabricated with faux-depressive sentiments and tired, generic broodings on subjects already excellently covered in his past work - let’s not even forget the train-wreck that such a change in the album’s flow causes as well! That being said, though, I will give Jurado a few points for the ballsy attack on his own mother in the female vocals-assisted “Kalama”: “I was a fool, would always defend you . . . A house that is standing is no house at all
.” Clearly if he had the nerve to attack the Big M, he could have taken on new material for the second half of the Saint Bartlett
as well, be it lyrically or instrumentally – and all the more reason, too, given that he’s proven himself to be quite diversified in the past.
Why settle for less now?
seems to be the question lingering in my mind from having attended the newest of Damien Jurado’s classes, Saint Bartlett
. It began interestingly enough, I suppose, as much as the subject would allow, but a weak second half left much to be desired, losing my attention and instilling a sense of apathy for whatever Jurado was lamenting over up at the front of the classroom. For an artist who’s known to be diversified and consistent, Saint Bartlett
is certainly disappointing, resting on its laurels at all the wrong places and diversifying its tactics at all the wrong moments – i.e. the second half. Take a cue from someone who has had this guy before: it’s probably best to withdrawal from this class. Just try again next year.