Secret Meeting score: 91
by Philip Moss and Phil Scarisbrick
The Horizon Just Laughed was undoubtedly one of the best records of 2018: a luscious collection of self-produced, sparse soundscapes that backed Damien Jurado’s incredible voice and poetic vignettes. Indeed, it was was a departure from the psychedelic trilogy he had created with the late Richard Swift on his previous three records. But now, on his 14th studio album, he has stripped away the gloss completely.
Comprising of only voice and acoustic guitar, In the Shape of a Storm captures the beauty of Jurado’s voice while shimmying between the dark and the light in its subject matter. After the loss of Swift, it would be easy to hear lyrics such as the album’s opening verse – ‘Lincoln, here’s a song for you/I’ve been twisting in the vapours and the fumes/There is nothing that I can say to you now/That you have not already heard’ – and see that this is a man channelling his grief into the thing that bound the two friends together. But Lincoln was written over two decades ago during the Ghost of David sessions, and has been saved for the ‘right’ collection to surround it; but either way, it really opens you up to what to expect on the rest of the record.
Although there is a weariness to the vocal, it only accentuates the emotions that the lyrics convey. Newspaper Gown evokes Times Are A-Changing era Dylan in its melody and strumming, only with softer edges. South‘s jarred melancholy is a definite highlight, channelling another heavyweight in Leonard Cohen, while Throw Your Arms Around Me Now features the album’s first chorus. The achingly beautiful melody delivers the dark message of ‘Let me be the first to tell you I would give up my life/Every day as the tides grow closer, it is all that’s on my mind’. And despite being stripped back to the bones, Where You Want Me To Be still allows for a little pop – in both melody and arrangement – to be thrown into the mix.
At ten tracks and twenty seven minutes in length, In the Shape of a Storm is a perfectly weighted collection of songs that builds on, and even surpasses, the majesty of its predecessor. Recorded in just one two hour session, there is no fancy production, no strings or orchestral manoeuvring, and no knowing winks. Just a completely open account of its writer’s thoughts and emotions, presented in a form where there is nowhere to hide. And boy, does it deliver. It is an absolute triumph.