CD Review: Damien Jurado – Saint Bartlett

Damien Jurado’s attention span topples that of most singer-songwriters. Rather than spinning fully formed narratives, the Seattle folkie has always carved out and harped on minute moments — small gestures; a contained smile here, a devastating blank stare there. These still lifes bear greater resonance than your traditional set of point-A-to-B lyrics because they appear to process despair in ways the everyman can fathom. We don’t live in panoramic memories, we live in very specific ones, dealing with very specific instances.

On 2008’s Caught In The Trees, Jurado vacated this intimate neck of the woods by embracing the “alt” which spawned a sprightly collection of entirely dry songs. It felt insincere to a degree, as though he was grasping at a new condition, instead of coming to grips with the one that had plagued him from the start. Saint Bartlett wishes to address this critical oversight, diving into the man’s murky headspace and drawing strength from the past to dig itself out.

Elements of yesteryear’s pop litter Jurado’s tenth LP in order to add a novel twist to the songsmith’s frail quiver, so when he concedes he’s “still trying to fix my mind” on opener ‘Cloudy Shoes’, it comprises a firm declaration of intent — a take-them-as-they-come ethos supplied by winsome hand claps and summery old-school production. The easygoing does creep a bit too close to drowsy on ‘Kansas City,’ as well as ‘With Lightning In Your Hands,’ but that aside; the pep and fortitude of old tunes has an ample bearing on Jurado’s material. The glimpses of sorrow on lo-fi burner ‘Wallingford’ and hushed ditty ‘Pear’ are curtailed by the shuffling Americana cues of ‘Kalama’, mollifying the desperation of “please leave the light on” with the reassurance that it’s here to stay. As a result, ‘Rachel & Cali’, ‘Harborview’, and ‘Beacon Hill’ feel poised and resolute, instilling nuance into typically stalwart blues.

Jurado’s attention span is not what it was 5 years ago, though one can’t blame him for looking beyond the once all-absorbing present and trying a bigger picture on for size.

Score: 6.6/10

Saint Bartlett