Back in his Christian-punk salad days, Damien Jurado shared a band with David " Pedro the Lion " Bazan (who gets a bass cameo here on the closing " Bad Dreams " ). And whereas Bazanís PTL club has staked out a fiefdom on the somnolent fringes of indie pop, Juradoís slow, sad, enchanting ballads have led him back down Americanaís lost highways.
His first disc for Secretly Canadian, after a period at Sub Pop, is his finest effort yet. It makes a solid case, merely hinted at on previous albums, for Jurado as an honest-to-goodness roots-folk force, and the gleaming " Texas to Ohio " ó a man in a car confesses to his dashboard the downsides of " leaving all your friends for someone you think you love " ó nails the drawling, Midwestern emo-Stones hybrid he couldnít quite manage on his í02 rock outing I Break Chairs. Juradoís spare duet with singer-songwriter Rosie Thomas on the Appalachian spiritual " Rosewood Casket, " from 2000ís Ghost of David, seemed to auger a new direction, and Thomas returns for three tracks here. The hymnal " Window " is an original, but it sounds as if it had been written by the Carter Family (dead mother, meeting Jesus in heaven, sharp close harmony); and their delivery, dust-baked dry and æthereal in the same breath, would be the envy of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, or of Idaís Elizabeth Mitchell and Dan Littleton. " I Canít Get Over You " is surely a Jimmie Rodgers tune Jurado picked up from Hank Williams (the weightless falsetto-bordering-on-yodel tells you so) or else a Dock Boggs tune somehow overlooked by Folkways (a lover marrying someone else and a house on the hill cast high-lonesome shadows) ó except itís neither. O emo, where art thou?
(Damien Jurado plays T.T. the Bearís Place this Sunday, April 13; call 617-492-BEAR.)