Damien Jurado – The Horizon Just Laughed
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More than 20 years and 30 combined albums and EPs into his solo career, and following four straight records with producer Richard Swift (five including the covers album Other People's Songs), singer/songwriter Damien Jurado emerges with his first entirely self-produced LP, The Horizon Just Laughed. It's not an insignificant detail, given his reputation for strictly character-driven songs and the fact that the album comes advertised as "more personal." It's also a sonic reset of sorts, with some of the tracks returning to a more unadorned folk base after the increasingly psychedelic turn of the Maraqopa trilogy with Swift. A meditation on memory and everyday life set against an unspoken backdrop of post-2016 America, its blend of Rockwellian portraiture and personal remembrances makes for a deeply affecting collection. The spare, acoustic guitar track "Lou-Jean" is a standout consisting of a series of simple folk stanzas that reminisce in the first-person voice with poetic turns of phrase like "I strolled into diners/With skies of fluorescent/Married to pay phones/And numbers in stalls." A stream-of-consciousness recollection that moves from place to place, and from objects to people and back again, it also remembers his grandmother (dressed in turquoise) "And me with Lorraine/Walking like ghosts in the frame." Public figures have a place among Jurado's hushed reflections, too, on an album with song titles that reference author Thomas Wolfe, bandleader Percy Faith, and actor Marvin Kaplan. With ethereal female vocals that often echo Jurado, "Marvin Kaplan" is a bossa-inflected tribute to the latter and his telephone-repairman character on the '70s and '80s sitcom Alice. Lusher arrangements include the dreamy, gently trippy "Allocate," which opens the album with strings, organ, acoustic guitar, and rhythm section, and the outright psychedelic closers "Random Fearless" and "Florence-Jean," which adds horns and electric guitar to vintage keys. Again offering a borderline traditional folk, the dispirited "1973" is yet another piece of Americana (in a larger sense than the music style) that opens with the lines "Dear Mr. Charles Schultz/1973/I'm feeding rows of quarters in the pay television and trying to make sense of today." Profoundly authentic, nostalgic, and graceful throughout, The Horizon Just Laughed does nothing less than reaffirm that Jurado is one of the best songwriters in the business.