Album review: Richard Dawson - Peasant

Newcastle singer-songwriter Richard Dawson has been a local cult figure for some years, but is now drawing admirers from far and wide thanks to 2014's astonishing Nothing Important.

Richard Dawson - Peasant. (Weird World).
Richard Dawson - Peasant. (Weird World).

Blessed with an offbeat musical brain, an intrinsic eye for detail and a truly unique voice, the scope of his talents grows more startling with each new release - so much so that it's scarcely surprising he's returned with another masterpiece.

Never one for standing still, Dawson's approach with Peasant has been to expand his characteristic sound, decorating his songs with lush and sometimes dense instrumentation.

This might sound conformist, but in practice it's anything but, with the primitive folk palette preserving all his off-kilter charm and culminating in a hugely diverse range of sounds and textures.

More remarkable still is the record's lyrical content, in which Dawson transports us back to the North East in the early middle ages, shortly after the withdrawal of the Roman Empire.

As its title suggests, the era is approached from a peasant's perspective, its intimate tales of strife and struggle brought to life by his most expressive vocals to date and a gloriously dusty sonic backing. The results are beautiful and uncomfortable in equal measure.

Beggar, for instance, encapsulates the collection's strengths, marrying Dawson's stark voice - pushed, as it so often is, to its physical limit - with a bewitching melody and wondrous arrangement, while Soldier's message of hope is all the more powerful for emerging from the hopelessness of battle.

On the other end of the spectrum, the dark streak which regularly permeates Dawson's work is fully evident on the furious Scientist and foreboding Hob, while passages of the near-11-minute closer Masseuse resemble a primeval take on drone metal.

There are numerous cuts which even make use of children's choirs, pulling off the rare feat of doing so without sounding in the least way bombastic.

The nature of his work ensures he'll never be a household name, yet with this latest triumph Richard Dawson proves once more that he's a local artist to treasure. 9/10