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The beautiful third album by the Golden Dregs, On Grace & Dignity, starts with a scene of a man going on holiday in search of his “best self”. After all, sings Benjamin Woods, “for me and me alone the sun does shine”. Our protagonist is an exceptionalist, and perhaps a little deluded. “The song came from an observation that life is often lived waiting for the holiday and not really enjoying the here and now,” says Benjamin. “It seems a strange pattern that we have.”
Benjamin hails from Cornwall – a county where thousands of tourists flock on holiday, and thousands of locals could never hope of affording one – and so he grew up with a keen awareness of that gap between idealism and reality. Where his second album, 2019’s Hope for the Hopeless, plunged deep into personal pain, On Grace & Dignity looks outward to consider his home and what it means to be shaped by a place – in this instance, Truro, Cornwall’s capital, home to a rare three-spired cathedral, a peaceful river and a lot of empty shops and flimsy out-of-town housing estates.
In among the personal reflections on loss of innocence and inferiority, Benjamin spins subtly interweaving narratives about survival, desperate acts of violence, loss and the limitations of community in the face of rapacious gentrification. Nevertheless, it is, appropriately for an album about home, somewhere you’ll want to spend a while. (Benjamin recorded it at his place – that’s his sister Hannah on saxophone.) Life here proceeds at a graceful pace – the bass is sturdy, organs celestial, horns softly valedictory – grounded by Benjamin’s deep voice, which seems to resonate from his feet as he delivers the sort of meticulously written lunar wisdom worthy of Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, or the tidy yet revelatory koans of Silver Jews’ David Berman. “I’m no stranger to loss / And it’s hard to mistake / The hiss of an ember / As it drops on the lake,” he sings on Not Even the Rain, a mysterious vignette of two people trying to outrun their consciences.
Benjamin lives in London again now, but for the release of On Grace & Dignity, he’s commissioned Bristol-based model maker Edie Lawrence (who has worked with the likes of Idles and Jamie T) to construct an HO-scale fictional Cornish town. It’s eight by four foot, with a viaduct, an estuary, a supermarket; new-build houses and industrial buildings. Every song on the album takes place in a scene in the town. “There’s different parts of the experience of growing up in Cornwall in there,” he says. “Some of it was from me looking at it when I was down there that winter, and some of it was me harking back to the experience of growing up there. It’s defined by that sense of duality, of coexisting realities,” he explains. “You’re geographically so far away, and it has a strong identity of its own, as well as a different landscape. It’s so rugged and bleak, but beautiful – which is what I really like in music.”
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