Damien Jurado’s “What’s New, Tomboy?” is a deceptively simple collection of delicate vignettes, wrapped in subdued arrangements brimming with layers of wistful melodies.
Jurado’s 15th album is nearly all self-made, from the songwriting and production to the cover art, but Josh Gordon’s bass guitar is a key component, both foundation and filigree.
Some of the album’s songs, named after people like “Francine,” “Sandra” and “Frankie,” are tales of fragility, romance, commitment, maturity and conflict. Jurado’s worn voice, at once intimate and distant, lends them empathy and credibility.
Opener “Birds Tricked Into the Trees” is melancholy in that Ron Sexsmith way, an electric guitar weaving itself around a weeping melody and a pondering aphorism — “It’s all about/Knowing when to say you’re wrong/To get it right all the time/Means it’s over.”
The guitar on “Arthur Aware” seems inspired by The Beatles’ “Mother Nature’s Son” but the story sounds more like the desolation of “Eleanor Rigby.”
Jurado says he got rid of many possessions, including five of his guitars, at the time he was writing “When You Were Few,” an experience that made him feel dead while alive. In any case, the song has some lovely harpsichord-like flourishes and a pad of flute-like sounds — part of the numerous, ear-catching musical details spread throughout the album.
On “The End of the Road,” reminiscent of Warren Zevon at his most tender, drums take center stage in a supportive way, with the title referring to the start of a relationship, not its closure — “Now that I’ve found you/My running is over.”
Jurado’s economical approach really pays dividends on “What’s New, Tomboy?” as he compacts an anthology worth of disparate situations into less than 30 minutes of penetrating songs.