Recorded over the course of a week with only the help of producer/musician Richard Swift, Damien Jurado's 2010 album finds the singer/songwriter aiming all the more clearly for the stately, somewhere between the Band at its most formal and the later Flaming Lips at their most controlled.
Starting with the keyboards and handclaps of "Cloudy Shoes," Saint Bartlett plays with any number of elements of rock and pop history -- not for nothing does a classic Phil Spector drumbeat appear on "Arkansas" -- but ultimately there's a sense of solitude in vast spaces (and especially vast American spaces) that dominates. At its most gently beatific, on numbers like the serene guitar-and-bells blend of "Rachel & Cali" and the steady piano-and-keyboard blend of "The Falling Snow," it seems like all will be well, even though the songs suggest darker shades in the music alone.
Lyrically, Jurado's portraits of questioning souls and contemplation perhaps never get so intense as with the combination of yearning singing, acoustic guitar, and distant sonic sludge and disturbance on "Kansas City" (though "Kalama," in its tale of a dying soul speaking to his mother wondering about what happens next, comes close).
Blasts of feedback and other dissonant elements crop up at points, but otherwise this is an album of focused calm in both singing and playing, a vision of concern and empathy amid unease.