Damien Jurado – Caught In The Trees
At a time when Elliott Smith was a bright light in the world of confessional, acoustic and gentle paeans to lost love and damaged souls, Damien Jurado should have been right up there with him, rather than the footnote that he is.
A prolific songwriter (8 albums and 4 EPs in 11 years), Jurado’s breakthrough of sorts was 1999′s sophomore release ‘Rehearsals For Departure’, critically acclaimed but commercially nonexistent, the album showed a delicate figure with a voice so fragile you were left with the impression that it could crack at any point. Following on from this he surprised his fans with every twist and turn – sometimes creating albums of found sounds and tape loops (‘Postcards And Audio Letters’ and in part ‘Ghost Of David’), other times returning to his rock roots and going electric (‘I Break Chairs’), but always with the quality controls set to high.
On his previous album ‘And Now That I’m In Your Shadow’ Jurado produced something that was hushed even by his standards – pretty much reliant on acoustic guitar, piano and hushed vocals. So what was ‘Caught In The Trees’ going to be? Well, it continues the high standards set on previous outings and shows that he hasn’t stalled or just repeated himself. Instead he has upped his game and plugged his guitars back in. Ok, it’s no Racebannon but it is quicker of pace and boasts a full band presence. See ‘Best Dressed’ which boasts his country leanings and is reminiscent of Neil Young or a slowed down ‘Plateau’ by Meat Puppets.
‘Trials’ is Smith’s ‘Needle In The Hay’ rewritten, sped up and embellished with subtle harmonies provided by electric guitar, glockenspiel and beautiful vocals by Jenna Conrad. It also follows Smith’s lyrical content with a world weary view of love and breaking-up. In contrast ‘Caskets’ morphs into a dark and grimy number both in terms of sound and lyrical content: ‘Knock out your teeth to improve how you look/And you’re using your tongue for a flag/You’re looking tired in your funeral suit/And there’s caskets for all to be had/You must remove the skin/And burn off the fuel’ hmmmmm, nice. Continuing in this vein is ‘Cost Of Ice’, a venomous track that builds and builds, adding layers of guitars and gorgeous harmonies until it drops off and builds again to thrilling effect.
One of the many strengths on this album is the use of Jenna Conrad’s glorious harmonies. See ‘Go First’ (the kind of song that Coldplay and Snow Patrol write and murder!!) or the cello drenched ‘Last Rights’ which is introduced by ‘Sorry Is For You’ – 1.07m of strings that would not be out of place on Sigur Ros’ ‘Heima’ album and honestly brings tears to my eyes.
On ‘Everything Trying’ we see the theme of mending a broken relationship – ‘I would sail back to you / I would come back and admit it wasn’t your fault’, a theme repeated in ‘Trials’ and ‘Sheets’ (a song that sends shivers up and down my spine repeatedly) where Jurado confronts the antagonist – ‘Is he still coming around like an injured bird needing a nest / A place to rest his head in the song you’ll regret / Still you take him / Lord knows I don’t want to compete / But I still sleep in the very sheets he’s been in’ – phew, I need a drink! If this is Jurado opening a window into his world it doesn’t get much more confessional or heartbreaking.
The low point on this album would be ‘Paper Kite’ which doesn’t fly quite like the title suggests. However, this really is picking holes for the sake of it. On anybody else’s record this would probably be a highlight
One of the great things on this album is that Jurado has taken his many different styles and combined them into an album that is in turns delicate, experimental and rocking but always delightful. This is the most cohesive and commercially accessible of all his releases without sacrificing any of the integrity of his songwriting. Overall then another winning performance by Jurado leaving two questions in my mind ‘Is there anything that he can’t do?’ and ‘Why isn’t he going platinum?’
Top Tracks: ‘Sheets’, ‘Sorry Is For You’.
Released 27/10/2008 on Secretly Canadian