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Gathered In Song

Damien Jurado

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Album Review

Gathered in Song isn't a new Damien Jurado recording per se, but it might as well be. It places together his long out of print Gathered in Song EP from 1998 — issued in a small print run on the Made in Mexico imprint — and the demos for Rehearsals for Departure, an album that was acclaimed here by Jason Ankeny, but whose merits were argued about elsewhere. The brief liner notes claim that "These previously unreleased demos capture what Jurado considers to be his 'most challenging and frustrating time' as a musician." It's a compelling thing, then, to place what are considered his most successful recordings along with the demos from his most difficult period. The dichotomy is not lost, and there are a few reasons to compare the material. In fact, it would be best if they were looked at as unmatched bookends of his career at the end of the '90s. The contributions of Gathered in Song have been sung everywhere. These are small, simple, moving, and fully realized songs, played by Jurado and a couple of friends. The sheer blackness of "East Virginia" compels a mention of the similar unrelenting bleakscape that is Bob Dylan's "Ballad of Hollis Brown." While tracks like "Simple Hello" and "Happy Birthday John" are dark and melancholy, the sweetness of their melodies and stark instrumental backdrops offset the lyrics. The latter track is represented by another version in the "demos" section. A trumpet interjects itself in places and the vocal is a tad more strident. Other demos like "Tragedy" reveal the hidden complexity in Jurado's lyrics and the meter he fits them into. "Matinee" is a rambling double-time country song in the demo here, sung too high and played in a different key. "Saturday" reveals the kind of beauty and stark dignity that Jurado is capable of even when he's looking for a way to arrange and perform a new song. It's among the most moving things here. Ultimately, this is a document for those who missed Gathered in Song the first time. The extra material is of interest, but only "Saturday" adds significantly to its finally recorded version.


Born: Seattle, WA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Urban folk singer/songwriter Damien Jurado quietly built up one of the strongest catalogs on the indie scene, earning high critical praise yet somehow never quite getting his proper due. Nick Drake had a definite impact on much of his work, but Jurado modeled his career on more idiosyncratic, unpredictable figures like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and Randy Newman — songwriters who followed their own muse wherever it took them, whether fans and critics enjoyed it or not. His independence...
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Gathered In Song, Damien Jurado
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