In the most unembellished record of his career, Damien Jurado grapples with hopelessness and loneliness to striking effect.
Damien Jurado’s In the Shape of a Storm is his starkest release since 2006’s And Now That I’m in Your Shadow. Recorded in a mere two hours and comprised of only first takes, it’s a testament to Jurado’s enduring prowess as a songwriter and performer. While he has employed a wide range of styles over his sprawling discography, the sonic palate here is the sparsest of his discography to date. Jurado simply plays acoustic guitar with occasional accompaniment from Josh Gordon on high-strung guitar, channeling the energy of his intimate live sets.
The directness of the record extends into Jurado’s lyricism as well. Compiled mostly from older unused songs dating as far back as the beginning of this century, it feels like a return to Jurado’s more direct balladry pre-Maraqopa (a sentiment supported by the deep cut-laden setlists from his recent shows). His songs have always been laced with longing, but In the Shape of a Storm contains some of Jurado’s sweetest love songs. “Throw Me Now Your Arms” is a heartwarming ode to companionship, and “Oh Weather”—though brief—is a poignant portrait of devotion. Also present are familiar tales of forbidden love in “Newspaper Gown” and “Where You Want Me To Be,” which feel like more mature versions of stories that could have been found on 1999’s Rehearsals for Departure.
However, as is also often the case with Jurado, there is an undercurrent of sadness, which this time around is colored by the passing of Jurado’s close friend and frequent collaborator Richard Swift. At present, it’s impossible to hear “Silver Ball” and its refrain of “Time does not heal/Everything an end” outside of this context. And yet, even seemingly hopeless moments such as this and the bitterness captured in “South” don’t feel like resigned hopeless and nihilism. These feelings are allowed to land fully, but they aren’t the end if the record’s story. Jurado doesn’t lose hold of hope—at least never completely. In songs like “Lincoln” and “Anchors,” rescue and security may be admittedly out of sight, but they’re still close at heart.
It’s appropriate, then, that the closing lyric of In the Shape of a Storm is “Soon my moon will fall.” Jurado is familiar with dark nights of the soul. He’s sung of them many times and lived through them himself. He knows the dark, like we all do, and he communicates it with grace. In the Shape of the Storm balances hope and honesty through intimate reflections on love and loneliness. It’s a reminder that, though we may currently be plunged in darkness, we can be assured that the sun will soon arrive.
In the Shape of a Storm is out now on Mama Bird Recordings. Buy or stream it below.