Tuesday, 19 August 2003

Album Review: Where Shall You Take Me?

Where his recent excursion with his Gathered In Song collective, I Break Chairs was a slight blemish on Jurado’s immaculate track record, Where Shall You Take Me? has the Seattle songwriter back to his miserable best. I Break Chairs will have concerned fans that Jurado had finally cheered up, and had dropped his acoustic guitar for a more electric sound. Thankfully Where Shall You Take Me sees Jurado as depressed as ever.

The opening lines of album should mislead no one, “First came the scream / and blood on the floor.” Amateur Night is a sullen acoustic opener that becomes so much more when it reaches its dizzying keyboard finale. Elsewhere Intoxicated Hands, with its eerie guitar creates an odd tale of love gone horribly wrong. Perhaps most terrifying of all though is Abilene, a story of a 19-year-old girl whisked away by a “man without money”. Whether she is being taken against her will or not is never made clear, which makes the track all the more menacing. In fact, this lyrical ambiguity is something Jurado makes a habit of.

While Jurado’s voice carries the tenderness and fragility of Jeff Buckley or even Thom Yorke, the inclusion of Rosie Thomas on a few tracks is inspired. Thomas’ input is most notable on Window, an Appalachian hymn so pure it could have been recorded a century ago. Her glowing vocals also brighten Jurado’s tale of life on the American road on Omaha.

Only Texas To Ohio recalls the slightly heavier work of I Break Chairs, but unlike some of the bland material on I Break Chairs, this track is mangled with some muffled vocals that recall Dirty-era Sonic Youth and a swirling keyboard sample. By the time the album closes with Bad Dreams though, Jurado has returned us to unremitting despair. The sparse piano and strained violin take lyrics like, “And I have bad dreams / done so many bad things / so come save me from this fire” and stretch them further into darkness.

On Where Shall You Take Me? Jurado proves that he is truly in a world of his own.
But a world this dark, few brave souls will want to join him.

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