The wild days, when he played a lot of shreds with a bottle of whiskey on the guitar amp in the AB Club, which has since passed. Today, Dowd drinks water on stage, although that in particular suggests nothing about the normality of his songs or their performances. The recently released Family Picnic was a slightly more digestible album after a handful of blown solo projects, but it remains an awkward combination of mangled blues, angular waltzes, mischief verses, broken family chronicles, run-up keyboard triads and plastic beats. It forces the music of Dowd to a continuous balance exercise, where tradition and artificial mutilation fight for dominance and it can eventually go in all directions.
It also means that songs are sometimes used as a starter that can be used to eat anything, rather than finished packets that have to be deposited in predetermined form at the feet of a listener. Just like his hilariously dry stories and jokes (sometimes the line between the two is paper thin), songs can derail or even crash into a concrete wall. Appropriate actually, since Dowd taps into many barrels of the American song tradition, including that of the “teen tragedy song” (“Teen Angel”). It does take charm and resourcefulness to get away with it, but let that be no problem right now. Such a Dowd cannot simply be upset.
The set was largely built around Family Picnic , the songs of which were performed in slightly rawer and austere versions. Here and there you missed the extra coloring or singing of Kim Sherwood-Caso (“Walking The Floor”, etc), but Dowd did have Mike Edmondson, who played solo and rhythm guitar, provided bass lines, but sometimes also provided the show could steal; with a solo performance of Sinatra’s pocket drama “It Was A Very Good Year”, for example, or the cheerful “Butterman Dance,” in which the audience was also involved. Here and there, Edmondson also turned out to be a skilled stringsman, just like Dowd, who regularly squeezed a nasty blues or funk of the strings.
But an ordinary concert, that will never happen. Dowd simply has too much fun wringing the songs and pushing things in the direction of Dadaistic performance, which will scare the blues of “Vicksburg” and “Back End Of Spring” purists. Bo Diddley (a medley with “Hey, Bo Diddley” and “Who Do You Love”), country legend Conway Twitty (“I love the bright lights of Ghent City, and I want to be a star like Conway Twitty”), the inevitable inspiration Thomas Dorsey, “Jesus Loves Me”, hip hop van den Action(“White Dolemite”) and a piece of sardonic jazz fumbling (“the same mistake over and over again”). But just like with the most recent album, despite all the relativizing craziness and disruption, you can feel that there is also a craftsman who knows his craft under that layer of absurdities.
That was most obvious in “Dream On”, dedicated to his wife. “What was it about me, you found so hard to understand?” He wondered. And for a moment it seemed as if the question was directed to the public. Did they manage to look beyond that mask? Are they aware of how liberating that mess with conventions works? Perhaps Dowd is a modern Tijl Uilenspiegel, a folk hero who has to make a point, to be found between outbursts of chaos, imperfections and frightening detours. Keep looking. Crazy Johnny Dowd, it remains a figure to cherish, an outsider worthy of the title.
Johnny Dowd geeft al dertig jaar zijn eigen draai aan de Amerikaanse rootsmuziek. Al kan je hem niet op een genre vastpinnen want Dowd springt als een steenbok over en rond alles heen. Zonder zich van trends of hypes een fluit aan te trekken. Een unieke muzikale geest met songs die donker maar evengoed humoristisch zijn. Opgebouwd uit materiaal aangesleept uit de container waar ook Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart of Hank Williams wel eens langskwamen. En waar gitaren broederlijk naast aftandse drumcomputers staan. Johnny Dowd heeft net een nieuwe plaat uit en toert ermee door Europa. Komt dat zien!
Johnny Dowd has been giving American roots music his own twist for thirty years. Although you cannot pin it down to a genre because Dowd jumps like a capricorn over and around everything. Without worrying about trends or hypes. A unique musical spirit with songs that are dark but also humorous. Constructed from material towed from the container where also Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart or Hank Williams sometimes visited. And where guitars stand fraternally alongside decaying drum computers. Johnny Dowd has just released a new album and is touring Europe with it. Come and see!
Dit is wat Johnny zelf weet te zeggen over zijn nieuwe album:
“I had to dig pretty deep for this one. Not sure how many more tunes I have in me. Tick tock. This record took an unexpected turn to the past — my past. It’s kind of like Wrong Side of Memphis 30 years down the road. Surprisingly little has changed for me (emotionally, that is). I’m still drawn to the same themes — unrequited love, murder, general foolishness. Waltzes and shuffles and boom chuck beats abound. Ice cream chord changes. Plus Kim Sherwood -Caso – and Mike Edmondson. What’s not to like? An Americana classic, if I do say so myself.”
“On these 14 new songs, Dowd, like America, has reverted to his dark, twisted country roots. In Dowd’s case, it’s a good thing.” — MOJO (4 stars)