Album: Saint Bartlett
Label: Secretly Canadian
Release Date: Already released, on May 25
Rating (Skip, Stream, or Buy): Seriously, go buy this
Download: "Cloudy Shoes"
Saint Bartlett may be for Damien Jurado what Nebraska is for Bruce Springsteen. Intended as demos, Springsteen's 1982 album was sparsely-recorded on a 4-track; this bare bones approach--combined with Springsteen's story-telling lyrics about the hardships of everyday life--resulted in haunting, unforgettable songs.
Jurado's ninth full-length shares Nebraska's most definitive qualities. Saint Bartlett, too, tells a story: Jurado wrote most of the tracks about friend who was experiencing personal struggles. Taken individually, many of Saint Bartlett's songs--like the standout "Kalama," on which Jurado sings "Forgive my living/ keep me from breathing"--are embodiments of emotions, rich and inescapable. Like Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman," Jurado's songs are heartbreaking and bleak yet still inviting.
Where the albums mostly differ, however, is in the final production. Saint Bartlett was recorded quickly, with many first-takes making the final cut. While the Boss would have let those stripped-down recordings stand on Nebraska, Jurado and his producer, Richard Swift, added artful yet simple instrumentation. Saint Bartlett is analog but not lo-fi; it's not polished or clean either. It falls somewhere in between: with crinkling metal added to the mostly acoustic and echoing "Pear" and a broken piano backing "Kansas City," Jurado and Swift created music that amplifies the meanings of the lyrics while perfectly accompanies Jurado's gentle voice. To call this record a success would be a gross understatement: Saint Bartlett is likely the album that will define Jurado as more than just a singer-songwriter. He's now an artist and a storyteller, too, who has found his true voice.