Damien Jurado – Saint Bartlett Album Review

Damien Jurado’s new record, Saint Bartlett, is refreshingly pleasant for two reasons: the first is that is sounds like something from the past that you have known and loved. This is not to say that it is derivative necessarily, but that it draws from many sources in the best possible way. The second is that the soothing voice of lead singer and songwriter Jurado makes everything sound beautiful, calm, and at peace. These two are intertwined; some say that Damien Jurado is reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright, M. Ward, or even Will Oldham, with a bit of Neil Young-style songwriting mixed in. He is all of that, it is true, but has own his unfaltering take on what it is to be a singer-songwriter-performer.

 

Jurado’s personal musical style has been perfected through time and experience in the music industry. This is his ninth full length, and his fifth for the midwestern Label Secretly Canadian. It is also happens to be my personal favorite. Nothing of Jurado’s I have listened to in the past has had much of an impact, and even revisiting his previous albums doesn’t do much for me. Saint Bartlett, however, was gripping upon first listen. This might perhaps be due to the welcome musical addition of the Saint Bartlett Band (an eight member orchestra comprised of members from Kay Kay And His Weathered Underground) to flesh out Jurado’s sometimes stark sound.

Listen to “Arkansas”DOWNLOAD MP3


The whole album has a very Southern, wistful, easy-living vibe. This is partly due to the breezy nature of aptly-titled tracks, “Arkansas” and “Kansas City.” It is exemplified on the opener, “Cloudy Shoes,” in which Jurado states, “I wish I could float.” Damien Jurado’s literate lyrics manage to be intense and complicated, yet easy to relate to. One of the best examples of this is on the third track, “Rachel & Cali,” a stunning love song that becomes relateable through the lyrics, “Rachel, would it be alright/ If I stayed here in the car?/ There’s too many people out there I don’t know.”

Jurado not only makes music that is relatable to his listeners, but songs that are adaptable to any situation. “Arkansas” is a personal favorite, and as Jurado sings in the chorus, “Fade out/ This is where the credits roll,” it is easy to hear the song as part of film soundtrack. On top of all of this is beautiful guitar playing — sometimes subtle and twinkling (“Kansas City”) and sometimes with a rougher edge like on the more indie rock tune “Wallingford.” There is extreme beauty in an album that matches music with mood and lyric so perfectly, and Jurado has mastered this on Saint Bartlett.

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Judy Nelson