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Damien Jurado - In the Shape of a Storm Music Album Reviews

The singer-songwriter’s intimate 14th studio album strips down to spare acoustic guitar, lingering on the moments when the buzzing world around all but fades away.

For his 14th studio album, veteran singer-songwriter Damien Jurado strips away the roaring drums and vintage production of his recent works for a softly lit, spare stage of intimate acoustic guitar and voice. His lyrics alternate between dark and light, forming sharp contrasts and soft grey areas. On this spartan stage, he paints a world where love is both thrilling and unrequited, where friendships thrive and fade, and literal and metaphorical storms rattle foundations.

In the past, Jurado has invested in high concepts—he’s sang of aliens and the cosmos and killers. But here he sings from his life, of concrete moments where place often sets the scene. The words are so close it feels like a conversation, breath steaming windows or cooling coffee. “There is nothing to hide,” he proclaims in album opener “Lincoln,” a sentiment that speaks to the album writ large. In The Shape of a Storm lingers on the bare moments, when the buzzing world around all but fades away.

Love fuels much of the album’s narrative. “Newspaper Gown” and “Where You Want Me To Be” deal with secret longing, while “Oh Weather” and “Throw Me Now Your Arms” brim with romance. “Anchors,” “Hands on the Table,” and “In the Shape of a Storm,” are journey ballads, the first two brutally tethered to love, the third in search of solace. They fold into each other like scenes from a romantic montage, from meet cute to devastation and a reckoning of what’s lost and gained between.

On an airy pizzicato waltz on album highlight “South,” Jurado recalls pondering the future with a childhood friend: “Tom and I out on the hillside / Waving at planes and pulling our wrists,” he sings. They speak of relationships and cities, and who’ll come out ahead. By contrast, the whistle solo that concludes the track recalls a lone cowboy crossing a canyon, evoking the freedom and loneliness that accompanies the coming-of-age kids inevitably crave. In seeking the future we miss what’s in front of us, he seems to say.

It’s impossible to listen to In the Shape of a Storm without also thinking of the late Richard Swift, Jurado’s longtime producer and friend, who died in July 2018. The record’s intimacy feels like a candle held in Swift’s honor, a testament to their bond. Last December, Jurado participated in a collaborative tribute performance of Richard Swift’s final album The Hex; he was the only performer to break down in audible sobs, alone onstage with just his acoustic guitar. In the Shape of a Storm is an album’s worth of that feeling. In grief many cloak themselves in distractions, or hide away entirely: Jurado treats it as an invitation to look closer, feel deeper. “Time does not heal,” he sings resolutely on “Silver Ball.” It reads like a lament, but Jurado sings it like a promise. Recounting his highs and lows with stark clarity, Jurado has never been more resonant.

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