Seattle songsmith’s deadly seventh album and self-styled “tribute to jealousy”

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Damien Jurado – On My Way To Absence

Rehearsals For Departure. Ghost Of David. Postcards and Audio Letters. Where Shall You Take Me? And now On My Way To Absence. It doesn’t take a leap of Poirot proportions to spot the transient motif at the heart of Jurado’s work. But the world’s foremost singing pre-school teacher is all about transformation rather than simple escape. He’s no self-confessor either. Like Will Oldham or Dylan, he disappears rather than reveals, but his songs pivot on the Big Questions. For Jurado, too, the dark stuff – regret, retribution, madness, murder and other jollities – is an endless source of fascination and truth. It’s where he finds the essence of everyone’s soul. And though Jurado’s career has thrown up stylistic diversions (most notably on 2002’s two-fisted rock-out I Break Chairs), the American idiom that best suits his unsettling and ambiguous morality tales is old-time folk.

In some ways, …Absence is his most diverse record yet, but it’s at its brilliant best when spare and uncompromising. Regular cohorts Eric Fisher (guitarist/producer), Josh Golden (bass) and Andy Myers (drums) are all here, but there’s something quietly shattering about “Fuel”, just Jurado and guitar drawing blood as a merciless small-town killer – “I murdered the law here/ I took on God here/ So in place of your sins/ I bring you a Judas” – imploring his mother to torch his body for oil. Or the destructive “Northbound”: “Tail lights broken/ Stop lights out/ I speed without caution on a road made of ice/ My body an engine/ My car is a train/ I don’t feel guilty for the hurt or pain”. It could be straight out of Badlands. Amongst the empty farmhouses, black widows, pink champagne and guns in the drawer, Jurado’s riveting narratives explore sunken relationships and thwarted dreams, perhaps most tellingly on the outstanding “A Jealous Heart Is A Heavy Heart”, mordant strings giving way to a lonely piano coda and a desperate plea – “Grow old with me” – fading into oblivion. It’s the most heartbreaking thing he’s recorded since Ghost Of David’s “Medication”.