Pernice may be blissed out now, but there's not much risk of a sugar coma. The album kicks off with "The Weakest Shade of Blue," a track so pushed-front, bright and unstoppable that it's difficult not to sing along, or at least mouth the words; there's a frightened little Scuds song buried in there somewhere, like an ancient mosquito trapped in rock-candy amber, and here's hoping the songwriter never gets so down he cracks the rock open. Where he's at now, even a song called "One Foot in the Grave" is a fuzzy romper-stomper, melodic and memorable like something off Michael Penn's first album, March.
For every diversion into sleepy melancholy like "How to Live Alone," there's a packet of catchy pop fuel like the jangly "Sometimes I Remember" to rouse the daydreamers in the audience. Granted, next to the Scud Mountain Boys' velvet suicide notes, most anything sounds cheerful - but Yours, Mine and Ours is convincingly lovely and persuasively peppy even without the comparison.
Pernice's old label mate Damien Jurado, on the other hand, hasn't cheered up one damn bit. Maybe the opposite. His new Where Shall You Take Me? (Secretly Canadian) opens with "Amateur Night," a recording so spare you can imagine the wood-floored, bare-walled room where it was recorded, the front parlor of a house where the only furniture is a sturdy uncushioned chair and a mike stand that stands one centimeter or two in front of the singer's mouth as he solemnly strums an acoustic guitar.
Other instruments drop by to visit this sad songwriter, who's obsessed with flatlands like "Omaha" and "Abilene" - a violin here, a stray sample there, even electric guitars - but there's not much you can do to keep the guy from sounding lonely. More than once he sounds like Richard Buckner (on "Window," for instance), but Jurado is more straightforward, avoiding poetry and more closely resembling some stark text that, like Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, might inspire one of Buckner's soul-shredders.
Jurado may never be able to muster the kind of cheer of Pernice's latest release, but if he keeps putting out records this moving, I'm not rushing down to the pharmacy to get him some Paxil. •