For 20 years Damien Jurado has taken the slow but steady road to the crown of preeminent American songwriter. Playing in-stores, living room shows, and intimate 50-seat room gigs across the US and Europe touring in a van with just an acoustic guitar, Jurado has proven himself the musician of the people. He’s a guy that could’ve continued on that path of simple guitar and voice poetry and reaching the souls that need him.
But then he met up with Richard Swift and put out four records that would go to define his sound for 6 years. Slightly psychedelic, slightly rock and roll, and all 70s groove and high art, his Richard Swift-produced albums were stand outs in each year they were released. They pulled Jurado out from the singer/songwriter box he was in and placed him among guys like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Jeff Tweedy and other songwriters that transcended the acoustic troubadour label to something more far-reaching.
Damien Jurado has returned two years after Visions of Us on the Land with the self-produced The Horizon Just Laughed. It’s a stunning work, and one that for the first time brings Damien Jurado into the very present. The tracks are clearly presented and upfront, not affected by Swift’s psychedelic and sephia-toned touches. It’s an album that if the world were just it would be a breakthrough record for Jurado and push him to higher places and greater things. As it’s not a just world, The Horizon Just Laughed will remain another amazing record that will fly under the radar of the rest of the world. For us, though, it’s an absolute pleasure to play over and over.
“Allocate” opens on a bright and soulful note. Tasteful horns and organ accompany Jurado’s wisp of a voice, held up with strings, tells of a conversation with Q in the back of a cab. “What makes you think I could live in your frown/As you’re waiting around for the witches to drown” he sings over subtle r&b. “Dear Thomas Wolfe” floats along on strings and Jurado’s tasteful acoustic strumming. It’s reminiscent of Tracey Chapman as Jurado comes to the sad conclusion “Thomas Wolfe was right when he said/You can’t go home again.” “Percy Faith” is just a great, upbeat strummer. There’s elements of Michael Penn and Bruce Hornsby here, but with Jurado’s standout vocals to separate him from what’s come before.
When I’d heard that Damien Jurado wasn’t working with Richard Swift on his new album I was disappointed. I loved the work they’d done together on those four records between 2010 and 2016. And now that Richard Swift has sadly passed away, they’ll never have the chance to work together again. Though after spending some time with The Horizon Just Laughed, I have to say Damien Jurado seems to have found his voice, once again. He’s traded subtle splashes of psychedelia and brazen musical strokes for a very clear and precise kind of sound. It’s as modern as he’s sounded. I can’t imagine something like the plainly beautiful and upfront “Over Rainbows and Rainier” any other way than how it’s presented here. The man and his acoustic guitar with tastefully ornamented storytelling is all that’s needed here. Simple and perfect.
For over the course of eleven tracks, Damien Jurado gives of himself through earnest production and solid songwriting. From “The Last Great Washington State”, “1973”, and “Lou-Jean”; to the loud and rollicking album closer “Random Fearless” Jurado proves he’s truly the captain of his own ship. Master of his own musical destiny.
The Horizon Just Laughed is yet another classic Damien Jurado album. He continues to prove his worth in the pantheon of great American songwriters. The world may not be just, but this record is an absolute stunner just the same.
8.1 out of 10