Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band  
Dance Songs for Hard Times

Four out of five reels.
4/5

Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band is known for their old-school blues sound, just Peyton's guitar (which also fills in the bass), a washboard, and drums. Historically, their songs have a rocking gospel feel, with Peyton's slide work carving a path into and out of the tracks. But on Dance Songs for Hard Times, they change up the songwriting a bit, giving everything a surprising, pop-oriented, almost 1980s sound. The result is the same blues-influenced sound you'd expect, but with an unanticipated angle.

Peyton and his band made the album under challenging circumstances. He found out his dad had cancer; his wife, the aforementioned washboard player Washboard” Breezy Peyton also had health issues; the band lost power during the songwriting for the album. And don't forget the pandemic cut-off their touring revenue. You'd expect this to be a dark record, but it's got a real bounce.

Which isn't to say the challenges don't color the songwriting. "Crime to Be Poor" has a huge groove and harmonica jabs so powerful, it almost feels like train tracks rumbling beneath your feet, an on-coming locomotive blasting its horn to warn you of its imminent arrival. Peyton's chorus cries out, "It shouldn't be a crime to be poor," as he posits that "Poor folks go to prison / Rich folks get forgiven." But even the pointed social commentary, delivered with a hint of sneer, still has a little bit of a party vibe to it. It's old school music paired with contemporary ideas.

But there are more modern melodies, too. "Dirty Hustlin'" has a bluesy guitar riff that snakes through the song as Peyton lays down operatic vocals, as if Freddie Mercury had been born and raised in an American swamp. "I'll Pick You Up" has a slide riff that morphs into 1980s Who, almost like a lost companion song for "You Better You Bet." And "Too Cool to Dance" pairs dramatic vocals to rockabilly, with, like many of the album's other tracks, an 80s intensity. And while reading about it, you might think this is a strange and unworthy experiment, the combination of influences works together flawlessly. Peyton wrote great songs and brings them to life without worrying about genre. Instead, he's focused on quality music.

Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band's 2018 album, Poor Until Payday, was a fun romp through gospel and blues. The band was tight, his voice was strong, and Peyton's guitar-playing was as expressive as his vocals. Dance Songs for Hard Times keeps all of that, but routes it through more expansive songwriting. He's using the techniques of the blues in different situations, creating something a shade more modern than some of his earlier work. It's a neat evolution that shows Peyton moving from someone conversant with blues riffs and structures into someone comfortable deconstructing and reassembling to make something different-sounding out of the familiar.