Review Summary: The art of artlessness
Richard Dawson can't really sing, at least not in the strictest sense of the word, and, plot twist
, that's a good thing (--whaaaa!?). As the 30-something-year-old wails, croons and yammers his way through Peasant
- a pre-medieval, avant-garde, folken concept album reaching levels of unapologetic eccentricity akin to that of The Microphones' Mount Eerie
- the resultant experience feels oddly approachable for one so unusual. Dawson's uninhibited skwarking grounds Peasant
, with each voice crack and abrupt pitch shift imparting a very human character on a rather otherworldly, anachronistic landscape. As harps and horns erupt around one another, Dawson extends a reassuring hand, acting as our enigmatic guide through the thorny thicket. I'd wager the opposite could have easily been true, were Richard accompanied by a slightly less abnormal musical backdrop (perhaps one with a few less gongs), yet in a world as quirky as Peasant
, Richard's playful refusal to hit recognisable musical notes feels right at home.
Richard Dawson isn't kind to his guitar. Far from it: in using fret buzz and strained strings as musical tools in and of themselves, Dawson is downright nasty to his trusty 6-string companion. As it aches and quakes throughout Peasant
, the characteristics of quote-unquote good
playing are eschewed in favour of an oxymoronically more
(not less) expressive approach to the instrument. I suppose it's the intentionality and context in which his (presumably-battered) acoustic screams out in pain that saves Peasant
from developing an air of amateurishness, the joyous gang/choral vocals and putty-like production smoothing out the record's sharp edges.
Richard Dawson isn't actually Richard Dawson. Instead, he takes on the form of grieving fathers, weary soldiers and penniless beggars as suits the winding narrative of Peasant
. Each track operates as a self-contained, personable vignette: tangled tales of kidnapping ("Ogre"), war ("Soldier"), slavery ("Prostitute") and murder ("Masseuse"). It sounds silly, I know, and, to be fair, it is; yet this almost comedic veneer imbues Peasant
with endearing character, heightening the impact of the themes that tie together Dawson's various protagonists. There's this palpable sense of dread that cuts through the Kingdom of Bryneich, its inhabitants either wading through the muck or being consumed by it. In recounting their strife, the hallmarks of struggle
itself are encapsulated with surprising clarity, the relatable conveyed wonderfully through the unrelatable.
Richard Dawson is (if nothing else) an artist
, warts and all. Peasant
can be prickly to the ears - verbose and obtuse, no doubt - but it can be beautiful, too: fleeting and fragile, unrelenting in the execution of its vision and utterly, irrevocably human. Having dug out my dusty vinyl copy - a neglected gift from an old friend, left unplayed for years (sorry mate) - that first, bewildering listen was nothing short of magical
; because, through all of it's transportative and effervescent eccentricities, Peasant
becomes an adventure. Care to tag along?