Album Review: Damien Jurado - Ghost of David (reissue)

It just so happens I have many concerns…

It begins with a seductive opening line that lures you in—like any great work of fiction. The song, “Medication,” is itself a great work of fiction; singer and songwriter Damien Jurado does not have a mentally ill brother, and is not carrying on an illicit affair with a police officer’s wife.

Released in 2000, Jurado’s Ghost of David is spectral folk at its best—sparse, unnerving, and somber, he paints incredibly evocative portraits throughout the album’s run.

The album is not celebrating any milestone anniversary—it is 16 years old—but because we have reached peak vinyl, Jurado’s former label Sub Pop has reissued it, as well as his debut, Rehearsals for Departures (for the first time) on vinyl (and cassette for some reason.)

Because I am not made out of money, and because at 33, I’ve finally learned that I can just about live without most material good I may think that I want, I have not purchased this reissue. Who knows if I will? The holidays are only a few months away, and my in-laws are always asking me what I want, so maybe it’ll end up on a Christmas list.

Or maybe I’ll just go on, living my life, with only my CD copy of it. Although, ten years ago, I thought this was the kind of record that just begged to be listened to on vinyl. So maybe I will pick it up at some point...

I touched on my relationship to Ghost of David earlier this year when I was saddled with the task of reviewing Jurado’s most recent effort for Bearded Gentlemen Music, a site I occasionally contribute to. It was around a decade ago that I was first introduced to Damien Jurado thanks to hearing the song “Tonight I Will Retire” on the radio. I bought the album the next day, I think, at a record store in a mall in suburbia—I was super surprised they even had a marginally obscure release like this.

Following that, my wife and I both really immersed ourselves in it for quite a while. I tried to get into some of his other releases—I got a copy of Rehearsals for Departures for Christmas that year, and I think I had downloaded And Now That I Am In Your Shadow, but nothing really quite impacted me the way Ghost of David did.

What is it about this album that makes it so listenable? I stop short of saying “accessible,” because to some, it may not be. It’s a quiet album—sometimes barely rising above a whisper. It’s sad and honest—“Tonight I Will Retire” is a stark meditation on suicide and spiritualty. It’s raw and abrasive—the pained strumming and shouting of “Paxil” stick out like a sore thumb. It’s melancholic—guest Rosie Thomas providing warm, heartbreaking vocals to the whimsical sounding “Parking Lot.”

There is a fragility to the quiet, driving “Desert”; there’s an ominous urgency to “Great Today.”

There’s the edge of dissonance that runs throughout.

It’s the unadorned honesty of Ghost of David that makes it an album that I’ve been able to return to on a somewhat regular basis since picking up a copy of it ten years ago. It’s not a record for every day, or for every season; it’s not a “summer” record, even though it is hot, and August, and I am sitting on the floor of my living room listening to it. It’s a bittersweet and even chilling record—I always associate it with autumn, which is when I bought it, as well as winter, specifically because of the swirling, blowing snow sounds of the sweeping, grand “December.”

I could never quite crack Jurado’s canon enough to get into the whole thing—and his output over the last six years has been pretty unbearable. But there’s something compelling and mysterious about Ghost of David that makes it both his essential album, as well as, if only one time, an essential listen.