Jurado is one of our best storytellers and singers.
Recorded in an afternoon and only made of a weary tenor and threadbare guitar, In the Shape of a Storm, on its face, looks like a toss-off. But that’s underestimating the spellbinding power of Damien Jurado. This small record, only a year on from his last, is a stunning reminder that, striped to the bone, Jurado is one of our best storytellers and singers.
For his wrestling with religion and cosmic duels with aliens, Jurado has matched this album’s musical scope with a miniature lyrical scale. Small towns, backroads and high school sweethearts all swirl in Jurado’s throat and mind. It’s an album of wishing and reminiscing. The ominous opener “Lincoln” has Jurado muttering “Once I was captured in your lands,” passing through the Midwest, lost in his own dark thoughts. “South” packs a wallop despite dainty guitar work. Jurado plays a tight waltz as he traces the childhood machismo of him and an old friend as they readied themselves for adulthood. One would go to New York, the other would marry, and they promise to return and see who’s more miserable. There’s violence and implications of death lurking in the margins. When Juardo cuts out the music, only to pierce the silence with a whistle, it evokes a miniature Ennio Morricone score, the drama and tension buzzing to a frenzy under the placid surface.
Elsewhere, In the Shape of a Storm flirts with the fickleness of love. Jurado casts himself as a devotional, longing lover, waiting in the foreground or searching for a way back home. He pushes against the noir feeling of “Lincoln” and “South” and explores something older. The pesky catchiness of “Where You Want Me to Be” is so instant that it seems assured he nabbed it from some lost ‘60s folk jam. And the plucky romp of “Anchors” comes from an even deeper place with its simple, but warming melody. A good chunk of In the Shape of a Storm could have come from the 1910s or before. Part of that’s due to the stripped back nature of the album and Jurado’s lack of modern details. But even without cellphones or any noticeable technology post-1950 dotting the record, it’s Jurado’s spirt that makes it feel so kindly old. The swaying, bittersweet love song “Throw Me Now Your Arms” is stunning in its simplicity, Jurado laying himself bare, with only a second guitar coming in for a brief cameo during the chorus. The steadfast vocal line, especially as he swings into “who you can depend on,” is drowsy but brimming with a long forged strength.
The mewling sadness of “Silver Ball” has Jurado singing “time does not heal,” his voice ringing out into the void. And those dips into existentialism are Jurado grappling with the loss of Richard Swift, the indie-handyman who was loved for his polymath musical talent and for his warmth as a human being. He doesn’t so much haunt the album as poke at the edges. The small tidbits of zither, backing guitar or vocal effects that accent the otherwise naked album look like his fingerprints, giving a loving smudge to Jurado’s pristine sound. On the title track, Jurado nearly speaks, “If I showed up in the shape of a storm/ Would you recognize me?” And with the road-trip ethos clinging to his guitar, it feels like Jurado sees Swift out there on the highway—his face in the clouds, a song on the wind, a look-a-like strolling through Lincoln. Jurado didn’t dredge through hymnals or lost traditionals to pilfer; this was just what poured out of him on that afternoon. When Jurado refuses gaudiness, he channels something ancient.