words by Eric Engelbart
Damien Jurado is one of folk’s most prolific songwriters. His music has a timeless feel, his voice a unique tone and timbre, and his storytelling ability is rivaled by a select few of his modern contemporaries. His tenth studio album, Maraqopa, was released this week on Secretly Canadian.
Over the course of his fifteen year career, Jurado has evolved as a songwriter while always staying true to himself. On his debut album, Waters Ave S, he playfully sang of purple anteaters and space-aged moms. His sophomore album, Rehearsals for Departure, cemented him in the indie rock canon for years to come, as it is a mature and ardent record that earned heaps of critical praise. Jurado has composed seven albums since Rehearsals, and though Jurado consistently examines the subjects of infidelity, alcoholism, lost love, nostalgia, resolve, and hopefulness, his music has never grown stale.
Jurado’s songs have a literary and cinematic sensibility. His characters are well developed, his settings envelop the listener, and his narratives are speckled with layers of character, meaning, and emotion. One of the best examples of Jurado’s storytelling prowess is the track “Medicine,” from 2000’s Ghost of David. It could easily be transformed into a two hour-long Sean Penn film. The song tells the story of a man who takes care of his mentally unstable brother. Jurado’s earnest voice cuts to the core of his listener when he delivers the line: “Lord do me a favor, it’s wrong but I ask you- take my brother’s life.”
The tone of Maraqopa is a bit more uplifting than much of Jurado’s previous work, thanks to the work of producer Richard Swift. Gone are the low-tempo tearjerkers that speckled earlier albums, such as “December” on Ghost of David, “Gas Station” from And Now That I’m in Your Shadow, and “Everything Trying” from Caught in the Trees. Despite the heightened tempos, Swift is able to keep much of Jurado’s style intact, while helping the songwriter traverse new musical frontiers. Album opener “Nothing is the News” sees Jurado singing over psychedelic guitars and echoing backing vocals. Album low-point, the forgettable “This Time Next Year,” employs organs and guitar overtones with a spaghetti western feel. “Reel to Reel” cultivates a dreamlike feel, with distorted meandering guitars and Jurado howling, “The greatest songs I’ll never hear/ From a band you started in your mind/ Leave us hanging on your legend/ As you enter through the tape recorder.”
The new musical direction is apparent on album standout “Working Titles,” where Jurado poignantly explores the idea of missed opportunities and a longing to rectify bad decisions. In the song, he passive aggressively professes his longing to a former lover. “What’s it like for you in Washington/ I’ve only seen photos of Washington/ I’ll never know.” The line is simple yet concise, Jurado’s forte.
Maraqopa isn’t as consistent as Rehearsals for Departure, but it is still an excellent collection of songs from an accomplished songwriter. Jurado’s latest work fits nicely into his catalogue of eloquently evocative Americana, and will have his fans eager to see where his career will take him next.