Damien Jurado “Reggae Film Star”

Maraqopa Records, 2022

Indie-folk veteran, Damien Jurado, releases a stunningly beautiful album of hazy, dreamy, melancholic songs poking around the fringes of TV-land’s backlots.

With a career spanning a quarter of a century and eighteen albums that never dip beneath the bar in terms of quality, it’s inspiring to see Damien Jurado still producing some of his finest ever work. ‘Reggae Film Star’ features twelve songs that form what can, very loosely, be called a concept album. Jurado’s opaque and ambiguous lyrics rarely make it easy to get a grip on the worlds he so expertly creates – but he’s been doing it for so long you have to assume that’s exactly what he intends. You’re offered tantalising glimpses of some beautifully drawn characters and their lives living and working in the low-rent end of film and television production, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. However, throughout the album, the listener has the sometimes-frustrating pleasure of trying to decipher the connecting scenes in these intriguing, almost-there narratives.

The music is exquisite. Jurado’s acoustic guitar provides the central thread of the album but there are shades of prime-time Scott Walker or Jimmy Webb in an album that ranges from summer-kissed, West Coast retro-grooving, hazy psychedelia, Latin-inspired shuffle or straight-ahead indie rocking. Strings swoop, piano quietly picks out painfully sweet melodies, bass and percussion perfectly underpin each song, but it’s always Jurado’s exceptional, soft-yet-powerful voice that draws you in and leads you through the songs. The album was produced and pretty much entirely performed by Jurado and multi-instrumentalist Josh Gordon, working with recording engineer Alex Bush at Sonikwire studio in Irvine, CA.

Rather than dipping in and out, this is an album that benefits from listening straight through from beginning to end. There’s not so much of a narrative thread that leads you, but more of a feeling for the different characters and their relationships, and the places they inhabit. To that end, it’s hard to pull out individual tracks from such a complex weave: the opening track, ‘Roger’, sets the scene with Jurado’s acoustic overlaying sombre strings and gentle percussion, but right through to the final track, the particularly enigmatically titled, ‘Gork Meets The Desert Monster’, and the ever-so-slowly decaying reverb tail that closes the album, the quality remains constantly high. Like so much of Jurado’s work.

So go find yourself a quiet seat in the sun, put on your headphones and lose yourself in these achingly beautiful songs of desolation, obliquely capturing the banality of the daily grind of those who are barely-just-surviving in a world of career deadends and humdrum work in the bleak backwaters of the film and TV world.

9/10
9/10

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