Soundblabs Most Depressing Album and Moor review of Family Picnic

THE TOP 40 MOST DEPRESSING ALBUMS

 by Kevin Orton    25 Apr 2019
“These are oft cited as the most depressing and dark albums of all time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in my book. There’s something to be said for an artist laying it on the line and going to places where angels fear to tread. I don’t find them depressing. I find them inspiring and beautiful.”
Coming in at Number 36 ( Really? Not a bummer enough for Number 1?):

The first song on Pictures from Life’s Other Side is a little jarring to the sensibilities.

Actually, all the songs are jarring in one way or another, but that first song is just plain unpleasant. The image that comes to mind is of Nick Cave sitting in on a session with Morphine and something going terribly wrong. Luckily, I persevered and waited for track number-two. From then on, I was hooked.

Track number-two, titled “Worried Mind,” and featuring a chorus lifted from Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya,” is pure, sinister listening pleasure. Johnny Dowd is funny, scary, and ultimately, highly entertaining. His musical arrangements are inventive, occasionally hypnotic, even sensual… let’s see, what other adjectives can I throw in here? I’ll say this. Try slow-dancing to “Worried Mind” by candlelight and see if you don’t have some kind of epiphany.

Johnny Dowd is like the Hal Ketchum of the current indie scene. You may recall that Ketchum broke through as a country music recording artist only after a much less visible career in construction or roofing or some such. Similarly, Dowd was in the army and then worked as a furniture mover for many of his fifty-one years, although since he released his first album, Wrong Side of Memphis, which showed up on a number of critics’ Ten Best lists for 1998, he might be able to hire someone to move his furniture now.

Dowd writes his own songs, and given the nature of these tunes, it’s no surprise that he gets a lot of press as some kind of weirdo. Jason Ankeny, a critic for the All-Music Guide, described Dowd’s work as “sick, twisted… and genuinely horrifying.” (see full review below-Ed.) I don’t know if it’s all that. It’s what rock and roll should be: pushing the edge of the envelope. As Dowd himself has said, “a few times I lost the faith, but I’m still a true believer in the power of music. Rock-n-roll is my religion.”

In “The Girl Who Made Me Sick,” Dowd sings “You have a dirty, dirty mind; you got a missionary smile. It’s a strange combination; it drove me crazy after a while.” I wonder if this qualifies as projection, psychologically speaking?

I should mention that Kim Sherwood-Caso’s backing vocals are perfect on this album.

Overall, Pictures from Life’s Other Side rates a Groovy Factor of Four out of Five, which means I’d go out and buy it right now if I wasn’t lucky enough to already own it.

 – Original review in Eclectica

AllMusic Review by Jason Ankeny

If there was even the tiniest bit of comfort to be wrung from Johnny Dowd‘s singularly disturbing debut album, Wrong Side of Memphis, it was that the record’s stark, homespun tales of murder, misery, and malice seemed light years removed from reality, evoking a backwoods dementia so completely over the top it often threatened to veer into the ridiculous. Pictures from Life’s Other Side ups the ante considerably: Complete with full-band backing, crisp production, and a broader musical spectrum, the effect is much more chilling, as within this more conventional framework, Dowd‘s obsessions manifest themselves in new and sinister ways, cloaking his fixations and fetishes behind the subterfuge of a suspiciously listenable blend of country, blues, and pop. Where Wrong Side of Memphis immediately revealed itself as the ravings of a madman, Pictures from Life’s Other Side is much sneakier — at first glance, “Hope You Don’t Mind” appears to be a heart-wrenching ballad of unrequited love, but on closer inspection the object of the middle-aged Dowd‘s affection is a schoolgirl; likewise, the hauntingly atmospheric “No Woman’s Flesh But Hers” is a testament to undying love, in this case a husband’s pledge to his comatose wife. Sick, twisted, and undeniably compelling, Pictures from Life’s Other Sidedelivers where countless shock rock and gangsta rap records fall short, capturing a musical vision that’s genuinely disquieting.

 

Still shooting for that Number One spot with his latest release Family Picnic:

johnny dowd family picnic

Johnny Dowd debuteerde zo’n dertig jaar geleden met een donker Americana-album, Wrong Side of Memphis, en met Family Picnic keert hij terug naar die rootsrock omgeving. De teksten hebben nog steeds die zwarte humor, luister maar eens naar het portret dat hij van een familie neerzet in de titelsong van dit album, daar zou je niet vrolijk van worden, als hij het niet zo grappig formuleerde. En dat is eigenlijk ook waarom ik een zwak heb voor deze Amerikaanse singer/songwriter – hij is grappig en werkt op mijn lachspieren, ook met een nummer als Let’s Have a Party, waarbij ik echt onweerstaanbaar in de lach schiet, hoe knullig die drums ook mogen klinken, of misschien wel juist daarom. Hij opent overigens met een heel lekkere instrumental, Hoodoo, die je meteen in de stemming brengt voor goede moordballades en liedjes over andere ellende.

Johnny Dowd is inmiddels zeventig en laat zich begeleiden door twee muzikanten waar hij vaker mee samenwerkte, Michael Edmondson en Kim Sherwood-Caso, en dat werkt perfect. Een perfect Americana-album. Mis de tournee niet die Dowd begin 2019 naar Europa brengt.

Luister hier naar een paar fragmenten:

 – Original Article

Johnny Dowd made his debut some thirty years ago with a dark Americana album, Wrong Side of Memphis, and with Family Picnic he returns to that roots rock environment. The lyrics still have that black humor, just listen to the portrait he puts down from a family in the title song of this album, you wouldn’t be happy if he didn’t put it that funny. And that is actually why I have a weakness for this American singer / songwriter – he is funny and works on my muscles, also with a song like Let’s Have a Party , in which I really laugh irresistibly, no matter how silly those drums are. may sound, or perhaps precisely because of that. Incidentally, he opens with a very tasty instrumental, Hoodoo, which immediately gets you in the mood for good murder ballads and songs about other misery.

Johnny Dowd is now seventy and is accompanied by two musicians with whom he has collaborated more often, Michael Edmondson and Kim Sherwood-Caso, and that works perfectly. A perfect Americana album.

 – translation by Google

Live @ Lewes Con Club (Family Picnic review by No Depression)

 

TICKETS

 

Daughters, Motel Mirrors, and Other Upcoming Albums That Defy Expectations

Johnny Dowd – Family Picnic

Dowd has made a career of making music full of piercingly bleak, hard fought, gnarled dreamscapes that make David Lynch’s tales seem like those of a choir boy. But just when I thought I had him figured out, Dowd delivers a blues record so beautiful that I cannot stop playing it. It is also full of demons that live on a merry-go-round with feedback and distortion taking the places of the painted ponies going up and down. Paradoxically, its’s his most accessible music in quite a while, maybe ever.

“I am guilty as sin, of what I do not know” are about the first words out of Dowd’s mouth on the album, but it’s not so much about some spurious redemption as is it an observation about the quandary we currently find ourselves in. Then, digging even deeper, he pretty well sums up the Civil War in the next track, “Vicksburg.” Lyrically, Dowd seems to have inherited Leonard Cohen’s mantle, with Kim Sherwood-Caso acting as his Julie Christensen. Nowhere is more evident than on “Dream On,” where her counterpoint is so evocative. Sit back, relax, enjoy the ride.

  –  Original Article

Live @ The Greystones (Family Picnic review by Soundblab)

TICKETS

 

 

 by Kevin Orton Rating:10

 

There’s never been a more apt description of Johnny Dowd’s mission statement than the title of his 2016 album, Execute American Folklore. Ever since his glorious wrong turn on Wrong Side Of Memphis, he’s been taking a chainsaw to the stuff. Last year’s brilliantly iconoclastic, Twinkle, Twinkle was no exception. His latest, Family Picnic is a homecoming of sorts. To Wrong Sideterritory. But if this is the sound of Dowd looking back, you’re in for quite a carnival ride.

The self-described, ominous instrumental ‘Hoodoo’ ushers you in, then we’re face to face with ‘The Man Of Your Dreams’. And ladies, he’s anything but. Then we’re given a guided tour of ‘Vicksburg’. One listen and it’s clear Dowd’s not only singing about the Civil War but the state of the union over the past 160 years or so. “It was war politicians and war profiteers, it was young men dying while the old men cheered,” Dowd drawls. What’s more, I can’t think of a more apt summation of today’s polarized political battlefield.

‘Shameless’ tackles aging with lethal doses of black humor. Some lines literally had me falling out of my seat. And that goes for much on this long player. Dowd’s wit may be dark and dustbowl dry, but there’s always a punchline right in the eye when you’re not looking.

‘Walking The Floor’ tackles obsession, revealing it’s little more than a self-imposed prison sentence. One’s cellmate, the funhouse mirrors of delusional thinking. Here Dowd rips the Stetson off Country Music cliché, revealing the nightmare underneath and never quite disclosing where the bones are hidden.

On ‘Stuttering Wind’ Dowd summons elegiac images of the dearly departed, crows and snow. Kim Caso Sherwood singing the haunting refrain, “All fear the stuttering wind.” “Miserable man knows the meaning of remorse, he wears it on the saddle of his bug-eyed horse”, Dowd grouses. Hard to say what this song is about other than mortality flying its freak flag in the face of everything.

‘Family Picnic’ introduces you to the clan, skewering family values in the process. “Little sister makes a salad and big sister waits for a call, Brother John’s in the bathroom, lord he’s climbing the walls”. The chorus asking the immortal question, “How much emptiness can you swallow? Would a six-pack get you through?” With its demented guitar and cast of legless, diabetic relatives, Tom Waits’ ‘Cemetery Polka’ can’t help but come to mind. If there’s any moral, “such is the cruelty of life”.

The gorgeous, ‘Dream On’ paints a humbling picture of remorse. “You called me a dreamer, but I’m all dreamed out. I’m just a whisper, I don’t know what I was shouting about.” Then chanteuse Kim Sherwood kicks in to duet with “bitch eyed baby, bitch eyed girl, all around my world.” It’s the closest we’re going to get to a love song.

‘Four Grey Walls’ tips its hat to the Jim Reeves classic. Dowd painting said walls blacker than an undertaker’s coat with bon mots like, “Sackcloth and ashes is what you should wear, the dream of love has become a nightmare”. As bleak as all this sounds, it’s Dowd’s sense of humor that keeps things from tipping into despair. If anything, Dowd stares despair straight in the face and then cracks a smile at it. As if to say, if you can’t laugh at this crazy ass shit, you’re going to just lose your marbles.

‘Conway Twitty’ is a demented tale of ambition in our shallow fame hound culture. Dowd’s guitar sounding like a warped trumpet doing a raspberry. And if its murder ballads you’re after, look no further than the black comedy of, ‘Little Jimmy’. “He was not evil, he was just a fuck up. Officially, I knew he had run out of luck.” Which may be putting it mildly. In any event, Jimmy’s wife slits his throat because she’s sick of taking his bullshit. Dowd musing, “Was he the master of himself or the slave”?

Without a doubt, ‘Back End of Spring’ is the most unclassifiable track on the album. Whatever it is, it’s haunting as hell. And what’s more, it rocks. Family Picnic ends with a countryfied tip of the hat to gospel legend, Thomas Dorsey. Dowd lamenting that in comparison to Dorsey, “I sing songs of lust and depravity, that’s the only kinda songs come out of me.” As his warped guitar fades out, you hear Dowd and Sherwood duet, “I wish that Satan would let me go.”  If this is the devil’s music, I’ll take it over Amy Grant or Stryper any day of the week. Here’s to ol’ Scratch hanging onto Johnny’s coattails for as long as he can.

 – Original Article

 

Live @ The Dolphin (Family Picnic review by Rocking Magpie)

In late 2016 we were delighted to welcome the King Of Junkyard Americana, Johnny Dowd, to Bovey Tracey. A truly memorable night ensued and there are some great photos in the portfolio area.

We are very happy to announce that Johnny will be back with us in Bovey Tracey in April 2019 for another brilliant night. Don’t miss it!

See Johnny’s artist page for more information, photos and links.

Don’t miss the fabulous Johnny Dowd on tour from the USA this Saturday at the Dolphin, Bovey Tracey. Tickets from: www.southdevonmusic.co.uk.

 

Johnny Dowd FAMILY PICNIC

Johnny Dowd
Family Picnic
Mother Jinx Records

A Man Out Of Step Takes a Massive Leap Into The Alt. Past.

Johnny Dowd? It’s not fair to say that you either ‘love him’ or ‘hate him’ as it’s more, ‘you get him’ or ‘you don’t’. Mrs. Magpie gave me ‘that look’ last Saturday night when I played this on the stereo; which puts her in the latter camp; me…… bring it on kidda!
Dowd is now 70 and been recording albums for just 30 of those years; but those albums have helped change what we now call Americana Music for the better; as he has probably been an influence with anyone who put’s an Alt. in front of Country or possibly even Blues.
I will try to use the word ‘weird’ once; and keep the comparisons to a bare minimum; but right from the get go; opening track, the weirdly Jazzy/Blues instrumental Hoodoo sounds like something Zappa or Beefheart dreamt of creating put sadly failed, leaving it for Johnny Dowd set the new benchmark for Avant Garde Rock Music.
Over the years I’ve received quite a few albums by artistes trying to make music this interesting and fascinating; but all save a couple of songs have failed miserably; yet even on this Dowd’s 18th album it’s chock-a-block full of songs that will spin your head; but bring you straight back for more, more, more.
There’s so much more to Vicksburg than just being a history lesson; it could be poetry set to an Acid Jazz beat; or is that Alt. Country with a beat box? Who knows? Who cares?
Dowd uses Bass-lines so dynamic on the sparkling title track Family Picnic and Back End of Spring they will more than likely to get pinched by with-it Hippity-Hoppity stars; yet on the latter Dowd might even be getting his own Hip-Hop on anyways!
While there are surprises around every corner; I was stunned to hear Dowd Go Dub on Let’s Have a Party; or at least the backing track has come straight out of Orange Street but Dowd’s vocals are straight up East Coast Country…… play it LOUD and play it often.
With so much going on in his songs, it’s easy to forget what a great songwriter Johnny Dowd has always been; his odes to Conway Twitty and Thomas Dorsey have to be heard to be believed; yet somehow I think both men would raise an eyebrow were they to ever hear these two ‘love songs’.
Obviously with an album so left-field and eclectic makes finding a Favourite after only a couple of plays nigh on impossible; but if forced I will have to spin a coin between Stuttering Wind, as if it had been around in the early 80’s I would have danced my ass off to this on a Friday night at Barmston Club; and the other is the nearest to a Country song as I’ve heard from Mr Dowd, Four Gray Walls…….. but don’t expect an invite to the Opry any time soon!
If I had a record store I don’t know where I would slot this album in today; as it’s not easy to pigeon hole in 2019 where the public need descriptions like leading a horse to water; but let’s go for Alt. Eclectic or Avant Garde Americana……. or just Damn good and intelligent Rock Music?

 – Original article

 

Live @ Old Launderette (Family Picnic review by Blabber n Smoke)

TICKETS

Johnny Dowd. Family Picnic. Mother Jinx Records

  • By Paul Kerr
  • April 2nd, 2019

Released just prior to Johnny Dowd’s upcoming European tour, Family Picnic has been touted as a slight return to the sound and themes of his earliest albums with less of the tortured electronic skronking which informed his last couple of releases. Certainly Dowd’s idea of family values is not the same as someone like Thatcher or Reagan would have espoused as his families are composed of folk who are like rabbits caught in a headlight, catastrophe rushing towards them. And while the album continues to sound as if it’s been washed in an acid bath, the drums and vocals scarified into the songs, the guitars and keyboards misshaped by the process, by Dowd’s standards it does go some way back to that weird American Gothic which was celebrated in Jim White’s film, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. As Dowd sings on the closing number, “I sing songs of lust and depravity, that’s the only kinda songs come out of me,” and that just about sums it up.Much of the album pursues a kind of mutant gutbucket blues with snarly guitar to the fore although it also dips into kaleidoscopic and frightful carney funway music and primitive country jaunts. The opening instrumental, Hoodoo, buzzes with hot guitar and exotic xylorimba summoning up thoughts of mondo type exploitation movies of the sixties. However, it’s like a frog in a blender as it gets increasingly twisted out of shape ending in a wonderfully demented organ solo. Next up, Dowd comes across like a Lou Reed revenant as he sings The Man Of Your Dreams over a ramshackle backing and owes up to having something missing from his psychological makeup, a hollow man indeed. Here he’s got a vocal foil in the shape of Kim Sherwood-Caso whose deadpan contributions to several of the songs add to the bathos. There’s a bit of a side step as Dowd examines the psychological makeup of the south in the maggot infested blues of Vicksburg before he launches into the flickering neon flash of Shameless, a song which demolishes anything The Stones have ever done when they tried to get down and funky and dirty. Again, Dowd’s hero is falling apart, dependent on his “baby” to pull him up while the music is as insistent as a dentist’s drill pile driving into a cavity.

Dowd screws with your mind throughout the album. The melodious chorus to Walking Floor has Sherwood-Caso repeating the words, “Big fucking mess,” while on The Stuttering Wind the harbinger of love is a “shiny black crow” who has a sideline in scavenging the souls of the recently buried. Four Grey Walls is twice as demented at least as the most demented of Tom Waits’ cracked fairground waltzes and on Back End Of Spring Dowd unleashes some scabrous  guitar  as he lays down a beat version of the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone. Closer to home, the title song is a litany of the broken and diseased participants of a hellish family gathering and then there’s the tale of Little Jimmy, a threnody for a man who, as Dowd sings, “Was not evil, just a fuck up.”Anyhows, Jimmy gets his comeuppance when his wife, “Cuts his throat because his bullshit she would not take.”

Listening to Conway Twitty is somewhat akin to being inside the brain of any aspiring country star when they’re experiencing an epileptic fit. The ambition sparking but zapped by rogue neurons firing off in all directions, eventually ending in a fugue induced and plaintive plea, “I wanna be a star.” Dowd closes the album with the supremely engaging heaven and hell battle themed Thomas Dorsey where he compares himself to this giant of gospel song and admits that he can’t sing of salvation, only hell and damnation. For what it’s worth, we’d say that Dowd’s trips into the underworld are as glorious as any hallelujah.

Johnny Dowd kicks off his European tour this week with several UK dates included, all details here.