Greil Marcus once famously described the music collected on Harry Smith's iconic Anthology of American Folk Music as documents of "the old, weird America." On the other side of the Atlantic, Richard Dawson has devoted his talents to conjuring a vision of an old, weird England, one that his nation's folk tradition is just not strange enough to match. (And given the eccentricity of a number of the Child Ballads, that's saying something.) Released in 2017, Peasant is a set of original songs that show the clear influence of traditional U.K. folk tunes, but between his sometimes dour, sometimes fantastic storytelling, his sweet but jagged melodies, the creaky lo-fi tone of his guitar work, and the sympathetic but ramshackle accompaniment of his musicians, this eases past freak folk into a uniquely personal variant on traditional music forms. Look somewhere between the Incredible String Band and the Mekons and you start to get an idea of where Dawson has pitched his tent, though on Peasant he manages to make that place seem more welcoming than some might expect. This cycle of songs about life among the lovely has a genuine charm and vigor, even when dealing with the sordid lives of ogres and sex workers, and the dynamics generated by Dawson and his ensemble fill these songs with a passion and life force that make them effective regardless of how you feel about Dawson's deliberate eccentricity. If Richard Dawson is Fairport Unconventional, Peasant is his Liege & Lief, a strange but fascinating journey through the frameworks of British folk music as seen by one truly unique set of eyes.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming
feat: John Davies