I don’t want to say that Damien Jurado is somber. Let’s just say that he’s the kind of guy who writes lyrics like “Happy birthday, John/ Where has your sweetheart gone?/ She left today with one week’s pay/ And the boy she calls your son.” That’s right: If the first three lines weren’t enough, Jurado throws in that fourth line to cast doubt on the kid’s paternity. Something tells me John won’t be inviting Jurado to any more birthday parties.
Seattle-native Jurado started playing in Christian-oriented emo bands in the late ’80s alongside similar-minded types such as Jeremy Enigk of Sunny Day Real Estate and David Bazan of Pedro the Lion. By the mid-’90s, Jurado was releasing home recordings in that singularly bleak style he uses to this day. He’ll occasionally kick in electric guitars and a full band, and he has a fondness for sampling old answering-machine tapes he’s found at thrift stores, but for the most part Jurado sticks to a folk-inspired bedroom indie sound that’s part early Elliott Smith and part late Johnny Cash. And why not? He’s good at it.
Last year’s Caught in the Trees found the usually solipsistic Jurado in a relatively social mood, collaborating in songwriting with bandmates Eric Fisher and Jenna Conrad. Conrad’s backing vocals do wonders to lighten the atmosphere. Still, this is Jurado. There’s only so much Conrad can do to cheer up lyrics such as “Your passing will make the headlines/ But sadly no one will read/ Just how the town’s hopeless romantic/ Had his heart on his sleeve/ Died alone in the car park/ Of a local library.”
DAMIEN JURADO: Casbah, Saturday, May 2, 6:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $10.