THE HORIZON JUST LAUGHED
To get a measure of Damien Jurado's quiet strength, listen to the fourth track on his 13th solo album, The Horizon Just Laughed.
The gently flecked song, Over Rainbows And Rainier, is his goodbye to his home state of Washington as the Seattle indie-folk troubadour packs up his stuff and leaves town.
With his casually bathetic style, he nails the spiritual and the mundane. He is late in delivering the car keys to the angel Moroni (who purportedly visited Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, several times), who is "asleep in the carport". He spots "Lucifer bashful in hiding his face from the Lord".
In the penultimate verse, driving away "with my wheels in a turning", he sings the line: "I forgot I was human", then pauses for a significant five long seconds, letting the impact of what he has sung sink in.
Pure silence, before the guitar returns, and he continues: "As I laid up my emotions/And I knocked them like dishes to the floor."
A gifted raconteur who intuits the mellifluous unsaid, Jurado has produced one of his career's most personal reckonings, harking back to his early records, Rehearsals For Departure (1999) and Ghost Of David (2000). They share his lifelong obsession with identity and self-determination.
Over Rainbows And Rainier is followed by another farewell letter, The Great Washington State, a song that captures his turmoil of emotions in finally upping and going after more than three decades.
It also contains a pithy line which gives the album its title: "The horizon just laughed to see us fall off."
Accompanied by gentle syncopation, a faraway female chorus and a sustained, winding synth line, it confronts his ghosts as he contemplates ending his life and career, before he realises: "What good is living if you can't write your ending?"
Calling out "I am alive, can you hear me?", he declaims: "Sleeping in motion/I love you Washington State."
He may sound lonesome, but he is not lonely.
Jurado constantly interrogates his sense of place in the world, but the world is populated by personalities as well as folk he knows.
Cribbing a line from comedian Chevy Chase in an episode of Saturday Night Live, he concurs with the American author in Dear Thomas Wolfe, a 1970s-styled bluesy-folk number: "Thomas Wolfe was right when he said: 'You can't go home again.'" (You Can't Go Home Again is a novel by Wolfe that was published posthumously in 1940.)
Jurado looks back at his own peripatetic childhood and troubled family background, soothed by easy-listening music and pop entertainment.
Swooning strings and horns appear in Percy Faith, which contains allusions to the famous Canadian bandleader of the same name as well as a string of TV personalities such as song parodist Alan Sherman. "I know everything and yet no one at all," Jurado confesses ominously.
Chronicling snapshots of personal history from the 1970s onwards, The Horizon Just Laughed is a surrealist portraiture of America on the move, shifting among dreamy sequences, spiritual insights and character idiosyncrasies.
In the psychedelic closer, Random Fearless, he sums up one American dream: "Born in a storm/From the rumours mill/Ain't it gas to see all the jokers believe it?"
Is it a sly critique of the state of the present Union or just an existential zinger?
Either way, this is an American artist on top of his game.