Richard Dawson: The Ruby Cord Album Review

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Richard Dawson sings as if he were waging a lonely war against all of modern civilization. His broken down style of English folk music seems to come from another time, every frayed flaw possessing an ornate, worn beauty. Any missed guitar notes and accidental vocal crackles betray an intricate design, a refined musicality somewhere between the brutal virtuosity of Bill Orcutt and the classic elegance of Joanna Newsom. His paranoid voice echoes and rumbles like an apocalyptic proverb screaming from the side of the road, but if you stop to listen, you’ll hear moving stories of misery, cruelty and tenuous hope.

Although Dawson regularly reconfigured his music in gnarly, sprawling forms, he gradually refined his quirky style into something more concise and digestible over the years. His last two solo albums, Peasant and 2020, were twisted song cycles that chronicled the daily struggles of characters living in the forgotten underworld of society. The former took us to the Middle Ages, following stories of grieving beggars and vengeful sex workers facing the malice of their oppressors; the latter carried forward to the present day, locating that same desperation in the suffering of Amazon warehouse workers and UFO conspiracy theorists. The ruby ​​cord, on the other hand, envisions a distant future dominated by virtual realities, where metropolises have begun to decay as Dawson’s protagonists get lost in worlds of their own design. It’s a looser, freer, more associative approach for Dawson – one that still carries his unique and unsettling touch, even if he seems to lose his own way as his songs drift towards abstraction.

If Dawson’s music ever hinted at a progressive sense of scale, The ruby ​​cord takes it to extremes with its gargantuan 41-minute opener, “The Hermit.” The song’s opening 10 minutes are the most compelling: Dawson and longtime producer Sam Grant concoct a delicate movement of flowing folk music, as brushed drums, lightly strummed guitar and hissing violin strings creak and teeter together in unison like a big old barge. collapse on itself. Even though the song picks up momentum when Dawson’s vocals finally enter 11½ minutes, the track never leaves that simmering vibe, humming softly through a capella passages and pedal harp-laden bridges as if it could really last forever.

Of course, with Dawson, the music is always only half the picture – his lyrics are where his songs come to life, and that’s where “The Hermit” begins to reveal itself. The ruby ​​cordlack of concentration. Dawson’s propensity for telling surreal and startling stories has been one of the most powerful elements of his music, his obscure vignettes painting a fractured portrait of humanity at its most poignant. Comparatively, “The Hermit” never quite finds itself, spending much of its runtime exercising Dawson’s esoteric wordplay as it describes lush expanses of undisturbed nature populated by “wispy trees of a rising sun” and “patchwork meadows labyrinth of hedges”. The story picks up a little momentum once Dawson’s narrator is mysteriously granted the ability to perceive his surroundings in unimaginable detail, moved to tears by each individual follicle of buzzing bees and mushrooms growing beneath his feet. . But just as it seems like the story is starting to go somewhere as the reality of Dawson’s world begins to crumble around him, the thread drifts away into nothingness and a vague 12-minute choral outro carries the song away. in the clouds. As mesmerizing as its headspace may be, the song leaves the distinct impression that somehow, even after 41 minutes, Dawson still hasn’t quite got us anywhere.

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