Damien Jurado | And Now That I’m in Your Shadow (Secretly Canadian)

Like a great short-fiction writer, Jurado knows when to comment and when to step aside and let a character speak.

 

cd_juradoLike a trumpet when muted, Damien Jurado's latest And Now That I'm in Your Shadow seems most clarified when just a bit dampened. What makes Jurado stand out among the innumerable songwriters around is his understanding of the scene. Like a great short-fiction writer, Jurado knows when to comment and when to step aside and let a character speak. The detached camera lens of Jurado's songs drifts with an unsettling calm through divorce, death, and the unspoken wreckage of interconnected lives.

The hallmark of Jurado's sound has always been restraint. The lyrics detail the emotion, but the musical arrangements and delivery almost always undercut the drama. Jurado is an absolute counterpoint to a songwriter such as Conor Oberst, spinning out apolitical, impersonal folk with the consistency that his contemporaries depend on the first-person point of view to communicate. Jurado seems to work from the assumption that so little happens in a single life worth singing about; that the truest way toward empathy is carefully documenting the world outside. In other words, art is more expansive than experience because it can perceive a world it is not present to.

Springsteen's Nebraska is an obvious reference. Each equally dystopic and bleak, the wild-eyed charisma that carried that album is displaced with Jurado's mournful elegance. And Now That I'm in Your Shadow succeeds only as far as its stories. The accumulation of details coheres into a star-crossed narrative seen from many perspectives. Standout "What Were the Chances" captures the push-pull of an adulterous relationship—the desire for both lovers, the desire for neither, the denial of lines like "we are not cheating/we are only meeting in hotels and not our homes," the guilt and the desperation, old promises broken and empty ones spoken. "Denton, TX" exists with a specificity as true as the town itself. Its anonymous subject who makes beds at a hotel folds into "I Had No Intentions" where the main character mourns his brother in a "hotel hospital." Morbid but beautiful in lines like, "We both ran quickly to the house where the windows were shot out/He lay there bleeding on the floor/My mother beside him screaming ‘Dear Lord, someone shot my boy,'" "I Had No Intentions" documents the crisis and dénouement of the murder around which the album obliquely revolves.

Even with the gravity of the narrative, the arrangements seem too predictable. Too often, the music does nothing to further the understanding of the story, but exists as pure background, a vehicle for the lyrics. In Your Shadow is apparently part one of a two-album cycle. The album ends opening out into the My Morning Jacket-influenced "Montesano," with Jurado's voice reaching to spaces not quite reached in his other work. Mournful, yet spacious. Perhaps it anticipates a next step. It is to the detriment of the story if the songs cannot carry the weight musically. Like a trumpet, when always muted you lose the full range of the sound. B+

RIYL: M. Ward, Aimee Mann, Pedro the Lion

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