Release Date: May 25, 2010
Record label: Secretly Canadian
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Alternative, Singer-Songwriter
Recorded over the course of a week with only the help of producer/musician Richard Swift, Damien Jurado's 2010 album finds the singer/songwriter aiming all the more clearly for the stately, somewhere between the Band at its most formal and the later Flaming Lips at their most controlled. Starting with the keyboards and handclaps of "Cloudy Shoes," Saint Bartlett plays with any number of elements of rock and pop history -- not for nothing does a classic Phil Spector drumbeat appear on "Arkansas" -- but ultimately there's a sense of solitude in vast spaces (and especially vast American spaces) that dominates. At its most gently beatific, on numbers like the serene guitar-and-bells blend of "Rachel & Cali" and the steady piano-and-keyboard blend of "The Falling Snow," it seems like all will be well, even though the songs suggest darker shades in the music alone.
It's hard to find an entrance point into Damien Jurado's discography. You could start from the beginning, 1997's Waters Ave. S., but that record is filled with the sort of angsty, electric Pac NW indie-rock that is largely uncharacteristic of his catalogue as a whole. You could start with his first folk-leaning LP, 1999's Rehearsals for Departure, which has one of the best and most tender songs he's written, "Eyes For Windows", or 2002's comparatively upbeat I Break Chairs, but there's not much to make either stand out from the pack.
For roughly the past decade, Damien Jurado has been a mainstay on the indie circuit, steadily refining his Raymond Carveresque penchant for lyrical detail while coupling his hard luck verses with a coffee house troubadour’s knack for strummy, affecting melodies. At this point in the game, his growing discography is either viewed by onlookers as comfortable and reliable or bland and predictable, depending on his or her tastes. Enter Portland-based musician Richard Swift, who takes the production reigns here, allowing for Jurado to retain his wispy, folkie intimacy while switching things up just enough to keep them from becoming stagnant.
Damien Jurado has been referred to as the Raymond Carver of songwriters, and not without good reason. His songs tend to be quiet, tense, and awfully dark. He has spent much of his career mining melancholy and heartbreak and carving out his own brand of both, and making beautiful, hushed songs along the way. But on Saint Bartlett, he steps away from his threadbare folk sound into something more expansive.
Over the course of his career, Damien Jurado has explored the minutia of American life through a distinctive lens, with characters forced to confront the ugly truths and missed chances in dirt towns, soundtracked by Jurado’s plaintive, bare-bone folk sounds. His last record, 2008’s Caught in the Trees, turned the camera inward, dealing with the messy aftermath of the singer/songwriter’s divorce. It was a heavy album, fraught with aching drama, but also, for the first time in Jurado’s career, a necessary and hard-earned sense of hope.
For a while there, as he delivered albums made up of either sparse, whispered confessionals or spikier electric numbers, it was quite easy to paint Damien Jurado as a mix between Will Oldham and Neil Young; the kind of artist who gathers great reviews at every turn without ever catching the attention of a wider audience. It was almost as if Jurado’s songs were too personal and too plaintive for fans to share with friends, passing on one of his records akin to letting someone read your teenage diaries. However, over his last couple of LPs, Jurado has muddied this mix with another element.
A fine, accomplished and emotional album that ranks among his very best. Daniel Ross 2010 With his 2008 effort, Caught in the Trees, Seattle singer/songwriter Damien Jurado truly expanded his craft. It became epic, dusted with bold musical statements. It was as much about the largeness of his emotional content as it was about the blistering folk-rock that accompanied it, but with Saint Bartlett Jurado has expanded in a different way.
Saint Bartlett is singer-songwriter Damien Jurado’s latest album in a career that’s spanned 15 years. More robust than his previous efforts, Saint Bartlett , produced by Richard Swift, swells and soars above the listener in vaguely soundtrack-sounding choruses, almost as if one can imagine any of the tunes behind a climactic scene in One Tree Hill or any other number of teenage drama CW shows. From the opening track, “Cloudy Shoes”, which is reminiscent of ’90s-era World Party, to “Arkansas,” a ’50s prom song via My Morning Jacket, to “Pear,” a dead ringer for a track by Will Oldham, all of them lead back to a detached, melancholic, but ultimately hopeful record.