Where Shall You Take Me?
The best album Bruce Springsteen ever made, hands down, was Nebraska — a sparse and entirely acoustic recording which stripped away everything that didn’t really matter in music and replaced it with genuine emotion and an sympathetic view of the world. Several will argue with me that Nebraska isn’t Springsteen’s finest offering –though none will claim that it isn’t one of them. Still, for this basically casual Springsteen fan, Nebraska takes my breath away.
Until a month or so ago, I would say that I hadn’t heard anything remotely approaching the sort of vibe (a stark but still tender acoustic soul, reflecting open roads and empty deserts) I get from that album. Then I heard Damien Jurado’s latest effort, Where Shall You Take Me?, and had to reconsider this notion. Jurado’s album is not the modern day equivalent of Springsteen’s classic; it simply has a few too many flaws to suggest it as such. That being said, however, it sure does evoke a lot of the same feelings and images, and is easily Jurado’s most successful album, both musically and lyrically.
Where Shall You Take Me? kicks off with the slow acoustic beauty of “Amateur Night,” a song that reflects all that is right with this album. Featuring only Jurado’s guitar, simple vocals and a touch of organ towards the end, the song is at once sad and wistful, easily one of the album’s strongest tracks.
“First came the scream and blood on the floor the alcohol and magazines… In my flashlight, you were a star a razor blade that cuts you clean.”
He follows this somber, haunting track with the decent “Omaha” and the better “Abilene,” before venturing into semi-rock territory for the first and only real time on the entire album with the slightly amped up “Texas to Ohio.” Jurado slows things down again for quite possibly the highlight of the album, “Window,” a gorgeous acoustic song that wouldn’t seem particularly out of sorts on an Emmylou Harris album (or the recently popular O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack). A mix of old time country, bluegrass and gospel, the song is one of the best Jurado has ever recorded and lends added gravity to an already strong album.
Other highlights include “I Can’t Get Over You,” “Tether” and the album’s closer “Bad Dreams.” As the final track fades out you wonder if you realized that Jurado had this strong an album inside of him. After his last album, it seemed he was moving away from this kind of music and into more ‘rock’ based territory, but it is truly a blessing for all of us that he decided not to leave the acoustic/folk genre behind once and for all, and instead decided to hang around and record what now stands as his best record to date.