Even though Maraqopa is not a real place, or a real anything, Seattle folk stalwart Damien Jurado might have you fooled into thinking otherwise. With Oregon producer Richard Swift, he’s built with a series of soundscapes that are so genuine you might find yourself Googling “train tickets to Maraqopa.”
Unearthly backing vocals slink behind Jurado’s simple, philosophical lyrics. At times, his voice is so strong you could build a wagon with it and head out west to join him in Washington.
Jurado does a call-and-response with a childish choir on “Life Away From the Garden.” It sounds sinister, but it’s not creepy — Jurado’s eeriness is textured and cozy folk; more dream than scream.
And his doo-dooing on the beginning of “This Time Next Year” has us feeling like we’re about to get our beards shaved at a psychedelic barbershop. And then he takes it away, with chilling honesty, into a sincere folk jam. The end of the song features a far-away sample of Jurado singing, “Take me back with you this time.”
“Reel to Reel” wins the “Most Likely To Be Featured in an Indie Movie’s Trailer” award — it’s lo-fi and xylophonic, with a verse that arches over cinematic angst.
His songs can be morose, but he creates a sense of calm for the listener through his straight-forward lyrics and comforting melodies. When his songs don’t feel like a lava lamp we can’t stop staring at, they’re a heavy, scratchy blanket someone just threw on top of us at the campfire.
Because it’s not rooted in any specific locale — we’re not in Dawes’ Los Angeles — we can paste his tunes onto all of the forgotten but romanticized corners of our country. “Maraqopa” is the mountain trails of Appalachia, it’s the banks of the Colorado River, it’s the deserts of New Mexico, it’s the evergreens of his Washington.
If you listen to any songs from “Maraqopa,” make it “So On, Nevada.” It’s here that Jurado most successfully evokes one of his influences: Neil Young. His voice cracks with emotion as he sings lines like, “It’s not that I mind you / just hangin’ around / I know that you mean well / but it’s dragging me down.”
It’s shocking that Jurado hasn’t become more famous — he’s been putting out albums consistently since 1997. He’s a fixture on the Seattle music scene and a well-respected member of the folk community — so why aren’t we seeing angry tweets after the Grammy’s that say things like, “Wait, who the eff is Damien Jurado?”
It’s a mystery, especially when we listen to proof of his mastery like “Maraqopa.”
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