Rehearsals for Departure by Damien Jurado (Review)

Jurado’s lyrics manage to describe tales that seem epic, struggles that seem like something truly overcome.
Rehearsals for Departure, Damien Jurado

Two words that really scare me are “folk singer.” Maybe I’m under the influence of some sort of unfair stereotype, but when I hear those words, I’m immediately struck with the image of a burnt-out hippie who can’t comprehend that the 60s ended a long time ago, long hair flowing while they intone in their too-pleasant voices lyrics that are either incredibly poignant or incredibly silly, depending on how many pairs of Birkenstocks you own. You know, that music forever doomed to AM radio and PBS specials. So you’ll imagine my surprise and skepticism when I hear Damien Jurado referred to as a “modern folk singer.”

However, if you imagine a folk singer as one who writes songs, in words that all can sympathize with, about ordinary individuals and the struggles they try to overcome in their search for love and happiness, then that strikes me as a much more accurate description of Jurado and his music. Jurado’s lyrics, in spite of their simplicity, often conjure up some of the most poignant scenes this side of Pedro The Lion’s It’s Hard to Find a Friend. But like Pedro, Jurado’s lyrics manage to describe tales that seem epic, struggles that seem like something truly overcome. Maybe it’s because, even though I’ll probably never find myself in situations exactly like those Jurado describes, I know exactly what feelings and emotions he’s singing about.

“Ohio,” the album’s opener, is a heart-wrenching tale about a kidnapped girl’s attempts to go back home. Jurado serves as the narrator, singing “I’ve gotten to know her, to live with, to love her/It’s hard to see her leave/she belongs to her mother and the state of Ohio/I wish she belonged to me.” Or “Letters & Drawings,” where Jurado plays the jilted lover, waiting for his gal to send him some note of her love, only to discover she’s been married. And the album’s closer, where Jurado helps a woman escape an empty marriage, serves as a fitting bookend to the opening track.

Musically, Jurado lies smack in the middle between Pedro the Lion and Jeremy Enigk. Like Pedro, he excels at writing the simple melodies, acoustic ditties that sound like something you could write, given the chance. But like Jeremy Enigk, he isn’t afraid to add orchestral flourishes (“Tornado”) or gentle strings (the Nick Drake-esque “Eyes For Windows”).

Lately, I’ve become pretty jaded towards music with vocals. So many vocalists really have nothing to say. They try to sound deep and intelligent, but just come off as pretentious and shallow. Jurado is the complete antithesis. Like the folk singers of old, Jurado taps into some sort of universal feeling, and the words he sings can relate to anyone, because they sound like they could’ve been written by anyone. How often can you say that about an artist?