Damien Jurado: Beautifully Flawed

His new record isn't perfect, and that's exactly the point.

The opening track on Saint Bartlett, Damien Jurado's ninth full-length album, was written in six minutes. Jurado was sitting in the studio—he had 12 songs prepared to record—when his producer and Secretly Canadian labelmate Richard Swift took a phone call. By the time Swift returned, Damien had "Cloudy Shoes," a layered, Flaming Lips–inspired track about the struggle to become a better person. He played the song for the first time as the tape rolled, and those initial, unrehearsed vocals and guitar chords were the only take of "Cloudy Shoes" the duo recorded. Hand claps, backing vocals, and strings were added later to create the version that would appear on Saint Bartlett.

"It turned out to be one of my favorite tracks on the record," says Swift.

The story behind "Cloudy Shoes"—the ease of production, the idea that less could be more—epitomizes the sound of Saint Bartlett, released May 25. Jurado and Swift are the only two musicians who perform on the album, which incorporates elements of doo-wop, blues, and folk, and was recorded in just one week. They even left in tiny flaws, like a creaking chair or a guitar strumming half-a-beat too late.

"I have never done a record like that before in my life," Jurado says. "And it literally changed the way I view everything."

That change—which Jurado, now 37 and a 13-year veteran of the Seattle music scene, describes as hopefulness and "letting go"—reveals itself in Saint Bartlett. The lyrics still tend toward darker themes, but the songs are bigger and more textured than the stripped-down sound Jurado trademarked on 1999's Rehearsals for Departure. But they don't slip into the super-tight, glossy production of 2008's Caught in the Trees; instead, they sound comfortable and natural, almost like a live album.

The hopefulness and openness Jurado discovered while making the record has also resulted in the busiest and most musically active time of his career. He's posted new songs to his MySpace page every week for three months; he released an album with Hoqiuam, Jurado's acoustic project with his younger brother, Drake, last winter; and this summer, he's producing a record by another musician, Ohio's Joel Walter—a first for Jurado.

"Now, not just in music but in life, [I'm] living in the moment," says Jurado, who's enlisted Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground as both backing band and supporting act on this tour. "I'm open to whatever."


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