And Now That I’m in Your Shadow
amien Jurado is—and always has been—overlauded and underheard. The former leads to the latter; all the glowing praise I'd read about him didn't have me anticipating his new album. If anything, it made me faintly dread it. There was a quiet air of desperation in the way the plaudits were phrased, either dully worthy or over-eager. With blind dates as with albums, telling someone “no, you'll really like him, I promise!” sets off alarms.
But having now fallen hard and deep for And Now That I'm in Your Shadow, I can see the reasons both for the praise and the awkwardness. Jurado is at least as good as every “new Dylan” epithet (however ill-fitting) thrown at him since 1999's Rehearsals for Departures, but other than just saying that he's really, really impressive... it's kind of hard to get a hold on him. You wind up either retreating to the vague or the unhelpful. Here, for example, I could gush about the way he writes about infidelity and death: “What Were the Chances” is a duet with band member Jenna Conrad that is, frankly, stunning. She just repeats his lines for most of the song, and just as you've slid into treating her as an echo Jurado pauses long enough after “do not leave me dancing alone” for her to rush ahead with “pick up the phone and call me lover,” and the infinitesimal catch in her voice on “lover” stops you in your tracks; suddenly she is a person again.
“I Had No Intentions” is a murder ballad of sorts—but manages to do so without overt drama while convincingly depicting the sadness and pointlessness of the death, even before the extended coda (given its own track as “Hotel Hospital”) comes in. Both “Denton, TX” and “Shannon Rhodes” detail women gone missing from the narrator's life. But for all of the heartbreaking precision that Jurado's narrators exercise, they don't actually do much. He's the sad sack who never quite cries, the guy stuck in a small town who can't manage to leave. His stasis may make him pitiable, but he makes up for it (or so he tells himself) by seeing things more clearly. It's bitter comfort for his narrators, but pays off for his listeners.
Where Jurado differs from someone like Jason Molina is in the vibrancy of the actual music. Molina's Let Me Go Let Me Go Let Me Go is a stark masterpiece, but you can tell without reading the press release that it was recorded alone and depressed. The “Damien Jurado” on the cover of this album is revealed inside to be three people, Eric Fisher as well as Jurado and Conrad. The sound is still restrained and quiet, Jurado's guitar flanked by the odd piano, drum, and violin, but it gives small gestures extra weight. When a simmering organ comes in over the hesitant percussion and guitar of “Gasoline Drinks,” for instance, it's more evocative than a hundred walls of sound. It’s the sound of people playing together, supporting each other—a soothing setting for Jurado's wounded-nice-guy whisper, a whisper that sounds uncannily like you’ve just told him you'd slept with his girlfriend, wounded and questioning.
Not that he doesn't get his on licks in: “The sun it does not move me like it used to / And neither do you.” But ultimately, despite the unpleasantness of much of the subject matter, And Now That I'm in Your Shadow registers as optimistic. Jurado comes across not as if he's singing about a dirty, tainted, failed world but about the ways in which our real, frequently beautiful world can be marred by bad decisions and hopeless circumstances. The opening and closing tracks are especially vivid examples; “Hoquiam” may ask “Will I ever be the hero in your song?” but it's accompanied by the kind of wistful, knowing acoustic guitar and violin arrangement that leaves Jurado sounding expectant instead of despairing.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2006-10-13