Damien Jurado Deals with Loss and Longing Through Minimalist Folk on ‘What’s New, Tomboy?’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Nineteen records into his career, you kind of know what to expect with a Damien Jurado album. Since the late 1990s, the Seattle-based musician has been putting out mostly lo-fi folk consisting of emotion-heavy, smartly written songs. As Jack Black’s character in High Fidelity put it, Sad Bastard Music. And What’s New, Tomboy? Sticks mostly to that template.

Across 10 tracks, Jurado relies on little more than an acoustic guitar – with feather light bass and drums and the occasional organ thrown in – and soft, sometimes nearly whispered vocals delivered with his trademark rasp. The themes of loss and longing are slathered all over the record and with five separate female names mentioned in various song titles, it’s a safe bet that lost love is the muse for many of the songs here. The album also acts as a natural bookend to last year’s even sparser In The Shape Of A Storm. Not coincidentally, he self-produced both records.

While Jurado lives up to his reputation as a solid songwriter, able to evoke emotion seemingly easily, there is a redundancy here to some of the songs. The opening track, “Birds Tricked Into the Trees,” is probably the strongest song here and the most animated vocally. Further into the record, “The End of the Road” is equally memorable, a sweet, sanguine track that ranks as one of his strongest in over a decade. But occasionally there is little to distinguish one song from next as they seemingly bleed into one another, especially on some of his more morose numbers.

Twenty-five years into it, Jurado can still write compelling, emotionally powerful songs driven by little more than his commanding voice and a stripped down acoustic guitar. But the unevenness of this record makes it a hard entry point for those unfamiliar with his work. Longtime fans of Jurado can still find enough to rally behind this one. 

   

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