Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Review: Peasant - On the Ground (* * * *)

Peasant is the humble moniker of one Damien DeRose, a folk singer/songwriter from the quiet town of Doylestown Pennsylvania. He released an album last year entitled On the Ground, which I unfortunately missed initially, but was lucky enough to have the pleasure of hearing just recently. His simple, beautiful style revolves almost entirely around his guitar and voice, with only a few embellishments along the way to add some variance to the thirteen low-key tracks on the album. His music has been featured on a TV show or two and he's made some waves around the world of live music as well, but he remains largely (and criminally) undiscovered.

One of the things I enjoy most about the folk genre, and what is showcased so well in Peasant's music, is the clarity of the songwriting. Or, to describe it another way, the lack of interference from too many instruments, an over-active producer, or just experimentation for experimentation's sake, allowing the melody and lyrics to shine without distraction. That's not to say experimentation or production should always be kept to a minimum, it's just nice to hear something more focused on the basics occasionally. Much of On the Ground is delicate and sparse, like the captivating opener, "Wind," with some organ backing DeRose's simple guitar pattern and slightly reverbed tenor vocals. Following is another favorite, the smooth, graceful "Fine Is Fine," and later, the emotional closer "Impeccable Manners," which makes an impact far beyond the spare arrangement.

On a few tracks, Peasant broadens his horizons in a more pop-oriented direction, and the results are equally great. "We're Good" bounces along on drums, electric guitar, and keys, while "Not Your Savior" has a bluesy sound to it with piano and light percussion giving the (slightly) more upbeat tune the perfect setting. On "Missing All You Are," DeRose sounds a bit like Ben Gibbard in his delivery as he combines a light, airy sound with some distant drums that grab your attention on the chorus. The subtle stylistic changes pay big dividends on a record that might otherwise be a little too lightweight, but they never detract from the beautifully simple approach that generally defines the album.

On the Ground can fade easily into the background, but it deserves more than to simply be set aside as mood music. DeRose's lovely vocals and his talent in writing make this album another pleasant gem from 2008, and establishes Peasant as an artist to watch in 2009 and beyond.