April 07, 2002

Damien Jurado "4 Songs" LP

Damien Jurado is a singer with an imperfectly angelic singing style. Not quite rough, yet not quite perfect, his voice is most distinctive. WIth his most recent album, I Break Chairs, Jurado adds the element of a rock band, which adds a really great dimension to his singing, breaking the folk-singer mold that he's seemed to develop. Four Songs is advertised as recorded at the same time as I Break Chairs, and for good reason. This is a little record that came out shortly before the album was released, perhaps to whet the appetite of Jurado fans everywhere. It's a limited-edition, one-sided EP. On the reverse side of the record is an etching by Jeremy Dybash, and a short story about flying by Adam Voith. They look interesting, but are slightly hard to see.

Unlike his latest record, Four Songs is purely folk, and, if you were to listen to the two records without knowing their chronology, you'd think you were either listening to an earlier Jurado record, if you ever realized that you were listening to Jurado at all. Folkier, darker, and almost exclusively acoustic, Four Songs is a radically different record than I Break Chairs, and, for the most part, is a different, darker style for Jurado. As funny as it seems, this sounds like a Damien Jurado solo record as opposed to a band record.

The EP starts off with "Splitting Teeth," with some awfully evil-sounding crooning. His voice strains in a place or two, leaving you to wonder if the pressing plant accidentally switched the track with a Will Oldham number. The next song, "How I Broke My Legs," Jurado is joined with a solemn, sad organ drone, though the formula remains the same. "The Killer" follows, and is the most up-tempo song on the record; though still an acoustic ballad, Jurado is joined by a, erm, killer pedal steel guitar lick, and halfway through the song, his backing band come in, creating a rather enjoyable hoedown, even though the song's about a killer on the run. The final song, "Flowers in the Yard" is a most atmospheric number, with a quiet little keyboard riff that reminds me of East River Pipe--and then the album ends, not with a bang, but with a very pretty locked groove that flows straight from the last note of the record.

The one small flaw with Four Songs stems from the fact that Jurado, when setting his voice in a darker, more atmospheric folk setting, tends to lose that unique vocal edge, and drifts into sounding not unlike Will Oldham. Though the similarities are there, Jurado is no imitator, as his very excellent discography will tell you. Four Songs is an interesting diversion from a very talented and criminally underrated singer/songwriter, and is worth the extra effort to find.

--Joseph Kyle

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