Ballads enjoy near a millennia-old history, and “The Ballad of Daniel Dawson” certainly contains flavors of antiquity, but there is nothing outdated about UK-based Flaming June’s modern twist on the traditional genre. The song tells the story of a man condemned to be hanged on June 1, 1812, having been convicted of poisoning a horse in order to fix a race. No less than twelve thousand people watched his execution at Cambridge Castle that day, and the judge who sentenced him was said to have warned Dawson in no uncertain terms that hopes for mercy or clemency would be futile.
Beginning with the wailing of the fiddle, the rollicking folk tune is primarily told from the perspective of the moralizing judge, punctuated by Dawson’s passionate but unheeded pleas for mercy. The ballad is as swift as the justice that befalls the unfortunate criminal, and the sound of the drums and guitar are equally unyielding when lead-vocalist Louise Eatock embodies the judge. Call and response characterize Dawson’s reply, accompanied by the instruments’ halting sobs, mirroring the personas of the two men.
Flaming June displays a knack for storytelling, and the song’s narrative is as compelling as its infectious melodies and elegant vocal harmonies. While the music has a traditional feel, the band is not afraid to add contemporary elements, nudging the ballad form into the 21st century. History is brought alive through Louise’s silvery voice and the instrumentalists’ skillful and raucous playing, resulting in a breathtakingly fast-paced song that will have you, too, crying out for mercy before it ends.
“The Ballad of Daniel Dawson” is available on all major streaming platforms.
Written by Jacob Jahiel
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