Of all the singer/songwriters around, few are able to evoke as much imagery, tales of despair, retribution, mass-murder and other such joyful subject areas as Damien Jurado.
On My Way To Absence is the man from Seattle’s sixth album and as soon as you hear the first words, “Heard they shot another”, about the random killings of a group of nutters in some small American town, you can rest assured that Jurado hasn’t suddenly started writing happy songs.
Despite his grim mindset, Jurado is a pre-school teacher across the pond, so you can only wonder what a bundle of fun his classes are! You can imagine him changing the words to childhood favourites in the sing-alongs around the piano so that the wheels on the bus not only go round and round but one of them comes spinning off causing the bus to career off a cliff and explode in a ball of flames.
A million miles away from his beginnings in a succession of local punk bands, Jurado likes to channel his anger these days in a more measured fashion, most of the time with his acoustic guitar around his neck.
Opening track White Centre finds him in such a mode. You can imagine him sitting out on the porch of one of those old American houses strumming along with his simple acoustic guitar and singing in his breathy mid-west vocal plaintively to himself late at night. And it is during these sparse, desolate moments that Jurado is at his best.
Second track, Lottery, is another very simple song which sees him duet with fellow singer/songwriter Rosie Thomas. Big Decision, meanwhile, is more expansive in terms of instrumentation with its electric guitars, electronic beats and strings; but certainly not in terms of vocals – there are only 19 words used in the entire song.
Lion Tamer was the single released from the album in the US and is one of the more radio friendly tunes here. The subject matter, of a tough break-up, is as depressing as usual however, despite this being a more upbeat number which sees Jurado slip into Kurt Cobain mode in phases.
Fuel is perhaps the highlight of the album. Only just over two minutes long it finds Jurado alone with his guitar portraying the role of a man feeling repentant for his sins. Reminiscent of Nebraska-era Bruce Springsteen, it is a haunting number, although you probably won’t find Springsteen explaining how he doesn’t deserve to live with the words “so mother, burn my body for fuel”.
More evocative storytelling emerges from the next song, Sucker. A tale of one man’s quest for revenge amid a feeling of prejudice can be felt in the lyrics “With both eyes closed I blew out his windows/He’s not our kind”.
You get the feeling from listening to this and Jurado’s previous offerings that he is an insecure individual and knows all to well how much rejection can hurt. Simple Hello is a tune about being shunned by a former girlfriend, while Night Out For The Downer sees him describe the doubts of another tortured soul.
In the gorgeous Northbound he sings “I drive to a place where no one knows who I am”, something you can imagine most of the characters he takes the role of would like to do to get away from the worries weighing them down.
A more varied album than Jurado’s previous releases, he strays away from the minimalism to rock out on I Am The Mountain, while the spiky Icicle sees him in angry mode raging “There’s not a person that I hate but you”.
The album ends emotively however with the heart rendering A Jealous Heart Is A Heavy Heart, fading to a lonely piano and a desperate plea – “grow old with me”. A fitting finale to another fine release from this still widely unknown singer-songwriter.