Music Reviews
Caught In The Trees

Damien Jurado Caught In The Trees

(Secretly Canadian) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Whenever I make an important compilation CD for a friend, or someone I'm trying to impress and show that I'm deep and sensitive and have a depressive nature, I always put on Damien Jurado's Ohio, from 1999's Rehearsals for Departure. Damien Jurado is one of those singer songwriters who make it all look and sound very easy, acoustically plucking nostalgic tales of desolate, abandoned cities, inciting feelings of desperation and angst. Lyrically beautiful, I'd defy anyone not to cry when hearing it. The harmonica alone makes my chin wobble.

Jurado's most recent release is Caught in the Trees, his eight full length album to date. Opening track Gillian was a horse had me rooting through my music collection to find of which song it reminded me and I eventually found it was Lolita by Throw Me a Statue. I don't think Damien Jurado would necessarily be flattered by this jangly indie pop comparison, and probably rightly so, but it does suggest a slightly more refreshing, upbeat direction. I think he is now reaching the stage of his career where such adjectives as "mature", "accomplished" and "has influenced artists such as..." can now be applied. I'd struggle to believe Chad VanGaalen didn't have Jurado CDs on repeat before he picked up a guitar.

Gillian... is a pleasingly uplifting beginning to the album, a duet performed with friend Jenna Conrad, although this isn't necessarily sustained in the album's second half. Caught in the Trees takes a step away from his predominantly fictional tales and lyrically is much more direct and explicit. On Coats of Ice he warns "you look like you could use a rest, you look like you'd be better dead" and on Last Rights "I'm playing for keeps, the characters are real". The lyrics alone demonstrate quite a contrast from the country tinged Americana warblings of his earlier efforts. This is decidedly less rusty and raw, and the years of relative success are showing in the standard of production, songs often fleshed out with a much fuller instrumentation, much like the transition displayed on Iron & Wine's recent The Shepherd's Dog.

Previous albums felt like they were harking back to an earlier America, but in a similar career progression to Cat Power, this feels a fuller, bigger, modernised album likely to reach a wider audience due to it's accessibility. He is clearly much more willing to use his backing band, bringing them in to provide a more rocky, scratchy sound, while still maintaining that Seattle indie edge. Despite this obvious shift, there are still a handful of familiarly introspective, sombre tracks (Last Rights, Paper Kite) that will please his cult following.

Caught in the Trees might have scored even more highly if it didn't trail off a bit, with Jurado seeming to run out of inspiration towards the end. Indeed, it would probably have benefited from being slimmed down a little. However, on the plus side Damien Jurado does now bring a lightness and a pulse back to his songcraft. The instrumental sound and accelerated pace of songs puts his often gloomy tales into a propulsive new light. Definitely worth a listen.

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