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Damien Jurado Saint Bartlett Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

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. Here, instead of grand statements, he whispers to make himself heard. The textures may feature sweet organs and other augmentations, but they are thinner, subtler and more reliant on that strong emotional content that he has made his own.

Saint Bartlett begins on a much quirkier note, though, with a discernible Motown influence running through the first couple of tracks at least. Cloudy Shoes is irresistibly lazy in tempo and makes no fanfare of its super keyboard string arrangement – the whole thing is effortless and dashed off with wonderful ease. Absent-minded call and response vocals add to the drift, completing the woozy atmosphere. Similarly, the almost honky-tonk piano of Arkansas is another stylistic affectation that, given this relaxed treatment, becomes a joy to experience.

Crucially, though, that emotional stuff is on hand to rear its head to balance the record, and balance it deftly does. Jurado’s voice, capable of great power, is reduced to an absolute whimper on Wallingford, a breezy but ultimately doomy exertion of quiet power. Perhaps the moment of highest tension comes on yet another gloriously laid-back strum – Kalama contains several pearls of unfussy pleas, apparently to Jurado’s mother, the most noteworthy being, “Mother, will you keep me as ashes on the mantle, or thrown out?” A man that asks his own mother such a question needs to do so with caution – Jurado proves a safe pair of hands.

Jurado’s honesty is now unprotected by the comfort and volume of rock, and on Saint Bartlett it is starkly demonstrated with expert musical control. The chilling close of With Lightning in Your Hands (which interestingly contains a reference to the title of his previous record) is as mature as recordings come, the hymn-like chorus and sudden finish bringing proceedings to a suitably downbeat conclusion. Clearly, the reduction in volume and scale has lead to fantastic musical growth – a fine, accomplished and emotional album that ranks among his very best.

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