Singer and songwriter Damien Jurado had a dream a while back. It was a two-minute flash of a thing, like a weird movie trailer, but he's mined the contents of this subconscious imagery and fleshed out the story to make two albums worth of songs. His new record "Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son," his twelfth full-length, returns to the themes and characters explored in 2012's "Maraqopa." Both are concept albums inspired by the dream.
Jurado spoke to CTNow last week from his home Seattle. He discussed the new record and his solo acoustic tour, which brings him to the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton on Wednesday, Jan. 22, the day after the release of the new record on the Secretly Canadian label.
The songs are connected by a story "about a guy who's unhappy with his life and just wants to disappear," says Jurado. The guy drives off. There's a car crash. He ends up connecting with a group of desert-dwelling millenarian mystics who are awaiting the second coming of Jesus, which may involve space ships and aliens. They need his help to make sense of it all and read the codes, which adds purpose to his life. "He sort of becomes this beacon between heaven and earth," says Jurado.
Add to that the notion that some of characters may or may not in fact be living, in the usual sense. And if and when Jesus returns "and they're all taken up to heaven, [the main character] himself isn't sure if he wants to go."
Okay, it's pretty far out ("Out there is nowhere, but inside is endless," goes one line), but a listener need not be versed in the details of the concept-album narrative to appreciate the music, which is beautiful, melodic, hushed and tinged with sadness the way most of Jurado's best work is. The songs are anchored by his expressive and firm tenor. On top of his voice are piled spooky mellotron lines, high vocal harmonies, organ and even chimes and deep drums, in addition to his careful and subdued guitar work underneath. An atmosphere of sky-gazing, blissed-out searching and impending rapture comes through.
But Jurado makes a distinction between the record, which is a distinct entity with its own fleshed-out sonic landscape, and the songs themselves. At the show, listeners will get to hear the songs as they were written, spare with just guitar and voice. He wrote the tunes over a period of a week about a year ago, then recorded it all in just two days. (This does not sound at all like a dashed-off or rushed effort.) Lovely as it is, Jurado is not interested in attempting to recreate the sound of the recording.
"This thing has such a life of its own that there is no way that I could go out and represent it," he says.
The cosmic vibe is enhanced by the song titles, many of which convey a hint at celestial objects or atmospheric anomalies, like "Suns in Our Mind" and "Metallic Cloud." And the mysterious narrative is advanced also in the lyric sheet that comes with the record, which includes bits of what seem like unsung stage directions — like "(exit)" or "(shaking a snow globe)." There are also significant parts of several songs that appear to be dialogue, appearing in quotes on the lyric sheet, a fact which won't necessarily be obvious to listeners who don't read closely.
Jurado says he's not really sure how the story ends, but he needed to provide as many signposts for listeners as possible.
"Since this record is so story-based, so dialogue-heavy, I kind of had no choice but to print the lyrics," says Jurado. "It's like reading a damn riddle."
DAMIEN JURADO appears Wednesday, Jan 22 at The Iron Horse Music Hall, 20 Center St., Northampton. Tickets are $13 in advance and $15 at the door. Show time is 8:30 p.m. Information, iheg.com, 413-586-8686.