In the Shape of a Storm by Damien Jurado – Album Review
By David Schuster
Sometimes an artist comes along and you’re so blown away by them that, when you discover how long they’ve been around, you can’t believe that you’ve not come across them before. That’s exactly my experience from listening to Damien Jurado’s outstanding release In the Shape of a Storm.
There’s a freshness and simplicity to this record which is very early Dylanesque. However, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was only Bob’s second, whereas this is the American singer-songwriter’s eighteenth! That makes its rawness even more astonishing.
The secret may lie in the story of how it came about; having put together a rough pre-studio version of an album’s worth of material, Jurado accidentally erased it. Rather than re-create it, he elected to start again from scratch, preparing and recording a new set in less than two weeks. In an era where production can take months, it’s worth remembering that such time pressures have created some masterpieces; Springsteen’s Nebraska, Machine Head by Deep Purple and, possibly the best known, The Beatles’ Please Please Me, laid down in just 13 hours.
Despite the sound being pared right back, there’s no shortage of variety in the songs, from the beautiful and affecting ‘Throw Me Now In Your Arms’, through the sinister ‘South’ with its lyrics redolent of suppressed violence, and a whistled outro that would have fitted nicely with the tone of the Coen brothers’ thriller No Country for Old Men, to the upbeat yet ironic ‘Where You Want Me To Be’.
‘Newspaper Gown’ is also fast paced, but has the same poignancy of subject matter, love blossoming in extreme poverty, as Paul Simon’s ‘Diamonds on the Sole of Her Shoes’: “You can come over whenever you want. You can get dressed up, and I’ll show you off. We could go dancing or hang around town. Whatever you want, in your newspaper gown.” The simplicity of the sound highlights the poetry of the lyrics.
There are only two songs where Jurado has any accompaniment, provided by guitarist Josh Gordon: ‘Silver Ball’, with its bleakly fatalistic observation that “Time does not heal” and the title track. Gordon also plays an acoustic, but with ‘Nashville’ or ‘high string’ tuning, where you replace the heavy, lower strings with lighter gauge ones tuned an octave higher than standard. This provides an ethereal, sparkling feel to the sound of these numbers.
Once, my wife and I walked along a pitch-dark beach to a remote pub in Wales. There’s no road, that’s the only way to get there. The Milky Way stretched across the velvet sky, streaked with the greatest concentration of shooting stars I’ve ever seen. Inside, the walls were lined with musical instruments; guitars, a banjo and bodhran. As we sat and sipped our pints in the corner, a local strolled in and, taking down one of the guitars, began to play. The beauty of this album is that it manages to evoke that same sense of simple spontaneity. Magical.