Consistent, able, thoughtful, and calm, solo folkies like Seattle’s Damien Jurado are immune to the ebb and flow of critical tide. They have their place, they have their fans, they aren’t hurting anyone—hand them some measured praise and let them pass. But Maraqopa signifies a shift from an album-length exercise in osmosis to a set of songs made to excite, and Jurado seems to know this. On the lilting, gospel-backed “Working Titles,” he channels Paul Simon’s quaver and self-awareness as he sings to himself, “Many nights you would hide from the audience / when they were not in tune with your progress / in the end you’re a fool like the journalist / who turns what you sing into business.” After 15 years and 10 full-length albums, the man once dubbed “the Raymond Carver of folk” for his spare tales of other people’s anguish is stepping into the spotlight—baiting critics, even!—while fingers snap and women swoon.
Producer Richard Swift deserves a chunk of the credit. While he and Jurado displayed a certain amount of chemistry and looseness on 2010’s Saint Bartlett, they’re waltzing here. The rain-soaked title track is a masterful exposition of vintage roots, complete with breathy harmonies and pastoral howls. On “This Time Next Year,” Jurado sings of “a chance to be reborn” over woodblock hits, shimmery guitar, and Swift’s sprightly do-do-do’s. It’s bossa nova, essentially, while “Nothing Is The News” cultivates a deeper psychedelia, thrilling with a slowly growing pileup of electric guitar and keys.
Spirituality is a common thread throughout the surprisingly diverse album—think of Jurado as a Karl Blau for the Holy Ghost instead of the Forest Spirit—and Maraqopa’s apex comes with “Life Away From The Garden,” where a choir of kiddies backs up Jurado’s yearning words about innocence lost: “There was a time when we were golden / like the sun, we were lights in the world.” Fittingly, Maraqopa finally puts Jurado in a position to shine.