Review Summary: Sparse, emotional folk from a master storyteller that is perfect for late night listening.
With the recent popularity of folk artists in the indie scene - whether it be the more conventional artists (Iron and Wine
, Sufjan Stevens
, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
) or the stranger ones (Joanna Newsom
, CocoRosie[/l], Neutral Milk Hotel
) - it's often people like Damien Jurado
who get left out of the loop. Since releasing his first record in 1997, Jurado has built up a highly impressive back catalogue on various indie record labels such as Sub Pop, Burnt Toast and Secretly Canadian. And Now That I'm in Your Shadow
is Jurado's eighth album and his second for Secretly Canadian.
While a lot of modern folk artists place a heavy emphasis on innovation, Jurado seems far less concerned with sounding unique than he does with writing effective songs that convey simple emotions. A lot of And Now That I'm in Your Shadow
's 13 tracks share chord progressions and certainly, there's not a lot of variation in the arrangements. The album's feel is a sparse, late-night one; few of the songs have drums or any sort of percussion and, unlike some of Jurado's earlier records, electric guitars are all but absent. Despite the extremely sparse and simple arrangements, often consisting of little more than vocals and guitar (sometimes backed by piano or stringed instruments), And Now That I'm in Your Shadow
is a very atmospheric record, with instruments drenched in reverb, particularly in the closing ambient piece, "Montesano".
Jurado's songwriting shifts between more conventional lyrics that often describe scenarios and first-person narratives that tell stories of murder, relationships, loss and heartache. Jurado is an accomplished songwriter in just about anything he puts his hand to, but it's as a storyteller that he is second to none. While some songwriters may like to hide behind metaphors, Jurado makes things very specific, to the point of naming places (as well as characters) in song titles ("Denton, TX", "Montesano") and lyrics ("I drove from Montesano to Aberdeen/From Aberdeen to Pacific Beach"
). In telling his stories, Jurado often approaches his songs by focusing on the more subtle details of his scenarios rather than, say, Johnny Cash's more direct approach in a song like "Give My Love to Rose".
And Now That I'm in Your Shadow
gets off to a bit of a slow start with "Hoquiam", a lush acoustic song with lush strings but comparatively forgettable melodies. Its follower, "Denton, Tx" is undoubtedly one of the best songs Jurado has ever written and tells a story of the narrator's relationship with a girl between gorgeous choruses of a simple piano melody. Following "Denton TX" is another highlight, "I Had No Intentions", a beautifully sparse song about the murder of the narrator's brother. Jurado switches between narration of the story and dialogue from its various characters ("He motioned to me from across the street/His arms waving madly 'come over to me'"
) and is able to perfectly capture the horror and intensity of the situation with little more than a soft voice, guitar and occasional piano. "What Were the Chances"" is probably the album's most pleasant song, featuring a duet between Jurado and singer Jenna Conrad
backed by a simple, fingerpicked chord progression and a cheap drum machine. "Shannon Rhodes" is one of the album's most minimal songs and tells a story of the narrator's search for a missing girl who eventually turns up dead on the side of the road while "I Am Still Here" is equally minimal and about a man's wife running away. Featuring some of Jurado's most poignant lyrics to date ("Here is a photo of our first baby/Here is a photo of our wedding day", "When you come back, we'll have a party/We'll hang up the Christmas lights/You'll be my bride and I'll be your groom/I love you so much, please make it home soon"
), "I Am Still Here" alternates between verses that progress the story and an instrumental chorus featuring a harmonica melody over the strummed guitar chords.
While Jurado certainly displays his songwriting chops in the majority of the album's 13 songs, a few cuts are less than memorable, usually due to somewhat uninteresting arrangements. "Survived By Her Husband" is an instrumental that follows "Gasoline Drinks" and while the idea works with "I Had No Intentions" and "Hotel Hospital", "Survived By Her Husband" drags one of the weaker tracks out, disrupting the flow of the album that is more or less perfect until the album gets to "There Goes Your Man". Faults aside, And Now That I'm in Your Shadow
is a beautiful example of intense but simple emotion conveyed through stories and sparse arrangements. While perhaps not Jurado's most consistent effort, And Now That I'm in Your Shadow
is some of his most personal and impressive work to date, as well as a perfect soundtrack to a late night.
Beautiful, sparse arrangements
Some sub par tracks
Loses some of its momentum in the second half
The lack of variation may be unappealing to some
What Were the Chances
I Am Still Here
Final Rating: 3.5/5