Benjamin Woods, the multi-instrumental mastermind behind The Golden Dregs, spent the entirety of the pandemic shovelling shit on a lacklustre building site on the outskirts of Truro. Perhaps some would despairingly cry to mummy; in Woods’ case, his labours resulted in his third Dregs album, the astounding On Grace and Dignity, rich with lyrics like: “Building, buildings, buildings / And painted tarmac fields / Rows and rows of houses / Brick and mortar graves / Nothing ever happens” (‘How It Starts’).
Although this record’s polemical crosshairs may not wholly focus on new, groundbreaking social themes, for those repeatedly perplexed by the restrictions inherent in dogmatic consumer/corporate culture, or for those unsatiated by false idealisations of a halcyon day rendered inaccessible, On Grace and Dignity might be made for you. Equally, for those who can’t stomach the gravelly voice of late Cohen or Cash, find joy in something a little downbeat, or require a bit of a genre-bender, you might be advised to look elsewhere for your album of the year. And to risk alienating the reader, if those reservations are a dealbreaker for you, then frankly, I want nothing to do with you. Sorry.
For me, On Grace and Dignity is a sensitively considered exploration of a very specific style which wonderfully expresses Benjamin Woods’ insular lockdown temperament. The combination of Phil Lesh sounding bass licks in ‘Josephine’, Roger McGuinn echoing riffs in ‘Vista’, and unconventional left to right panning across the record makes me wonder why the album displays all the signs of ’60s/’70s psychedelia whilst at the same time sounding absolutely nothing like it. On this record, Woods masters the ability to reference others without allowing them to become the sole identity of the music – a trap which many fall into. In On Grace and Dignity, we are left with a rich tapestry of allusions to those who trod a similar path, but in the end enough space is retained on the canvas for The Golden Dregs to develop fiercely in the future.