The new album from Richard Dawson is a notable new epic from the Tyneside master, featuring more guest musicians than ever before. Peasant’s songs are all set in the pre-medieval north-east, with each title naming a figure: ‘Weaver’, ‘Herald’, ‘Beggar’. It’s the most fully-fledged work yet by Dawson, and it's out on Weird World.
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“A dank and dreary song”. This is how Richard Dawson describes “Hob”, a tail-end track on new record ‘Peasant’, and he isn’t totally wrong. Picks meet strums like someone shaking at their shackles, the song eventually marrying a droning string morgue to a misty, never-ending verse of shimmering gloom. It’s maybe the most wretched thing he’s written; it meanders into an early grave because nobody wants it. And yet: it is sweet, and it is sentimental, tumbling through itself while describing a father observing his child and everything that makes them the same and different. It makes sense that this track would make up a dirge corner of this epic, aspirational tragedy of an album, one that sounds as messy and turgid as it does euphoric and triumphant.
Dawson has never been shy to the sweet and the sentimental, but this record announces itself on those terms. “Ogre” is something else. Breaking through Dawson’s guitar picks is an all-age's choir, jubilantly blowing out a medieval chorus that sounds both terrified and victorious. The second half of the song is a monolithic climax that sees them trade their pagan anthem with Dawson, who in turns growls and whimpers medieval practices ‘til his imaginary town is done burning. He claims parts of this song came back around in writing for the EU referendum, and both the video and song speak to a great emotional outburst, of confusion and anger and seismic hope, all part of him but belonging to the legions singing beyond him. For the first time his music sounds like a community, or at least addresses it with a booming collapse.
On this record, it sounds like Dawson is meeting people for the first time, like an RPG character exhausting dialogue with NPCs out of loneliness. His solo guitar tangles still sound ever so solitary, but they’re met with shimmering drums, elastic strings and the harp of old collaborator Rhodri Davies. The desperately sad “Soldier” sees an empathetic response to his chimes of “I am tired, and I am afraid / my heart is full of woe” as the song snaps into rock action. “Beggar” is a low-key, familial song that turns its tearful vocal line into a hopeful fanfare through twinkling guitars and a throbbing drumbeat about five too big for its song. These moments perfectly fill Dawson’s music, giving it a wholly new gravitas. If you’re been to a Richard Dawson show and seen how much his music means to people, and how communal it can feel, then you might understand that these moments, pop in their practice, feel pretty crucial.
These are his best songs yet, but they feel like his and ours. They’re full of the usual crooked accidents, with “Shapeshifter” and its roundtable picks sounding like Dawson of the old, only met with handclaps and jaunting. The devastating lament of “Prostitute” is met with a psychedelic swirl of noise in its background that sees Dawson as wrapped up in his events as we are. “Scientist”, another tune full of band singers, is some ritualistic shit that both harkens back to the more ominous moments of ‘Nothing Important’ while making it newly massive. It’s hard not to listen to this record and feel overwhelmed about ten times, as if we're part of that familiar medieval faction Dawson is bound to and fretful for.
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