(Loose, out Fri 12 Apr 2019)
Fourteen albums deep into a prolific folk career and Damien Jurado appears to have done it all, from deft indie arrangements to balladeering psychedelia. Where to go when you’ve already explored the furthest reaches of your own imagination? Back to basics, of course. In the Shape of a Storm burns all the sheet music and blows up the booming orchestra which have characterised his recent work in favour of a twanging acoustic guitar and the plaintive, passionate cadence of his voice. It’s a fitting tribute to his erstwhile collaborator Richard Swift, who died at the young age of 41 last summer.
Simple solutions are often the best ones and so it proves to be here. There probably aren’t too many singer-songwriters out there who could enchant as entirely as Jurado does with just those two weapons at his disposal, especially when the chord ladders and progressions of the tunes on this collection are so simple. The magic isn’t in the melodies, it’s all in the man; the beautiful, often aching melancholy of his lyrics, matched by the velvet texture of vocals that always seem to be on the brink of breaking, are enough to imbue any song with a healthy dose of heart.
But even though there’s plenty to get all misty-eyed about, with unrequited or unravelled love the main dish of the day, an undercurrent of optimism pulsates reassuringly beneath the album’s surface. On several occasions throughout its all-too-brief 27-minute runtime, Jurado acknowledges that while things might not be ideal at the moment, they’ll resolve themselves at some vague juncture in the future. Lines like “Finally stars will align / Finally it’s our turn to shine” on Silver Ball and “I still go on seeing you as mine / Just not at the present time” on Anchors reinforce this fragile but obstinate buoyancy, unifying this ostensibly disparate string of songs together into a coherent whole.
Collected over a period spanning more than two decades, the tracks were apparently cobbled together into this heartfelt hodgepodge in an impressively succinct two-hour studio stint. Despite the short turnaround, the years that have been put into their making is plain for all to hear, as repeat listens reveal ever more layers to this lovely little gem of an album. Lincoln, Throw Me Now Your Arms and Where You Want Me to Be might stake an early claim as stand-outs, but given enough time, each effort (including one-minute-seven-seconds Oh Weather) has merits of its own. It’s a testament to Jurado’s impeccable songwriting ability that he can do so not just once but ten times on an album of such limited instrumental and technical range. Back to basics, back to best.