Join us for a night of music and food to benefit the Tompkins family. Co-hosted by Mary Lorson and Mickie Quinn. Enjoy music from Ithaca musicians, including Pierce Walsh, The Long Now, Sam and Mandy, Janet Batch, Jennie Stearns, Johnny Dowd, Venissa Santi, Wingnut, Strange Heavy, Billy Coté, Mary Lorson, and more! 4pm til close. Maxie’s will donate 10% of the sales that evening. Donations welcome!
HCTF’s annual list of the 20 albums that will be in regular rotation for
many years to come. As per usual many genres are represented. This blog covers a lot of ground and it shows in this eclectic, final tally.
Today: final countdown from number 5 to 1.
Please shop at your local record store, buy directly from the artist, attend live shows. Don’t block anyone’s view with with your phone (better still, switch it off altogether). Shut the fuck up while the band is playing. Educate your friends. Word-of-mouth can’t be beat as the prime source to discover new music.
2 Johnny Dowd: Family Picnic
A prime example of mastering chaos and turning it into art.
Family Picnic rambles and rocks, like a machine on the verge of breaking down, with Dowd’s ragged delivery seemingly barely keeping it together. But first impressions can be deceptive. Dowd knows exactly what he is doing and what will work and what will fuck things up in a good way. Take the singalong quality of Conway Twitty, a live favourite for years is presented in what appears to be a one-take wonder format – it’s that spontaneous. The title track is a depiction of family get together told in a husky spoken word way, during which he points at all the six-packs that people brought in were consumed as thing started falling apart. Back End of Spring is abrasive and foreboding, almost like a piece of musique concrète. Stuck-up Christians will frown at Thomas Dorsey, a twisted but heartfelt tribute to the father of black gospel music.
At seventy Dowd shows no signs of aging gracefully. He is without peers in his field, but his friends and fans are willing to put up with whatever he comes up with. Luckily enough, putting out a shit album is beyond his grasp. Family Picnic caters to the converted and there is nothing wrong with that. He is an incurable maverick, who is just too weird for the MOR Americana crowd to appreciate.
I reviewed just over 50 albums for Americana Highways since July. The following represents my favorite records out of those 50 reviews: record of the year, top ten after that, and all the rest listed for reference.
7. Family Picnic by Johnny Dowd
Zoom in close to a rose bush and all you see is thorns. Although twisted and hidden beauty still exists within the plant. Welcome to the music of Johnny Dowd in all its thorny beauty. For over thirty years Dowd has been taken the unexpected path, an iconoclast with few mates. Family Picnic, Dowd’s 2019 release, finds Johnny tilling the soil of unrequited love, murder, and characters struggling to live a twisted American dream. As Dowd sings album closer Thomas Dorsey, “I sing songs of lust and depravity, that’s the only kind of songs come out of me.” Electronic beats, keyboard flourish, and what Johnny deems “ice-cream chords” drive a record composed of waltzes, shuffles, and boom-chuck rhythms. Dowd shifts between his bent-but-not-broke singing voice and a spoken word approach that succeeds where lesser artist would be chastised for “trying to rap”. REVIEW: Johnny Dowd’s “Family Picnic”
Sitting here at the Wherehouse getting ready to rock the apocalypse. The bands were fed a nicely varied menu and appropriate quantities of liquid. George’s band goes on first, followed, we think, by Johnny Dowd and Mike “Jim” Edmondson.Lots of beautiful people have wandered in, but where to put the band? Chaos ensues.
Suddenly apocalypse is post, and George Spafford is at the mic.
Then John and Mike hit the stage without a pause, and don’t stop till they get enough…
Thanks to the Wherehouse for the welcoming space, to the friendly crowd, to the Freejays for closing out the night, and to George for his hospitality.
Ithaca NY’s Johnny Dowd has been patrolling the dark, uneasy, unclassified byways and B-roads of the American heartlands for over two decades. A blistering, uncompromising guitar slinger and songwriter, Dowd is set to release his new album ‘Family Picnic’ this month, an ‘americana’ gem that returns to the topics and themes that inspired his legendary debut, ‘Wrong Side Of Memphis‘ and once again underlines Dowd as one of America’s true musical explorers. Americana-UK catches up with him as he prepares to embark on another European tour and asks him about the music that accompanies any such road trip.
So Johnny, how’s life on the road for you and what’s in that glovebox?
There comes a time on every tour when the next drive is too far, your emotional tank is nearly empty, and you can think of nothing but your mortality. At that point, you pull out ZZ Top’s ‘Greatest Hits,’ and you are again ready to conquer the world.
After a gig I want to hear something as far away from the music I played as possible. Sun Ra fits the bill. Any Sun Ra album. It doesn’t matter. He is the tallest giant in a universe of giants.
Today is an easy drive. You feel like you are not a day over 60. In other words, all is groovy. It’s time for Grant Green’s ‘Ain’t it Funky Now.’ Funky and sophisticated.
One of the first albums I bought was James Brown, Live at the Apollo. The very first album I bought was by Percy Faith. I don’t know what that was about. I do love a string section. So many great James Brown albums, but I guess James Brown Live at Paris Olympia 1971 has got to be high on the list. Speaking of high, I don’t know what the band was on, but some of those tempos are ridiculous.
This is another album that’s good after a greasy English breakfast. Incredible playing, uber funky, socially interesting. Of course I’m talking about ‘Headhunters,’ Herbie Hancock. Anything you can do, he can do better.
It’s that boring time after sound check and dinner. You really have nothing left to say to your band mates, let alone strangers. I might go to the van for some alone time and listen to Mary Wells, ‘All the Best.’ This album is like a time machine for me. I can usually only listen to a couple of songs before I start getting too emotional. Then it’s time for a brewski.
Any time is a perfect time to play this record. You could listen to it before your greasy English breakfast, just to get your mind and belly in alignment. ‘Paid in Full,’ Eric B. and Rakim. (Have I mentioned Betty Davis, the woman who put the funk in Miles?) ( Yes, MANY times…. ed.)
Late night. Trying to find the hotel. Lost. Twenty minute drive turns into an hour-and-a-half. No problem. ‘The Very Best of ‘ Johnny Guitar Watson (Rhino Records) will keep you focussed, relaxed, and alert. I just love his guitar playing.
You have a day off. You would prefer to stay in your motel room and watch tv. But your band mates want to drive somewhere to see ancient ruins. What can you do? Dial up some Sonny Sharrock, ‘Ask the Ages.’ This album affects me the way The Dark Side of the Moon affects hippies.
Sometimes, hopefully only once per tour, you are lying in bed in your motel room, it’s 3 AM, and sleep is impossible. You are engulfed in an ocean of loneliness and regret, and there is only one album that really captures that feeling: ‘Only the Lonely,’ Frank Sinatra. But if it’s the last day of the tour, and you are headed to the airport, then the only album to play is his ‘Songs for Swinging Lovers.’ Boundless swinging optimism. So that is touring. Hours of great music in the van. Followed by a gig, motel, breakfast. Repeat.
Johnny Dowd, 7 p.m. Dec. 7, Mohawk Place (47 E. Mohawk St.), $7.
Experimental alt-country artist Johnny Dowd will be posting up at Mohawk Place for a set Saturday night.
The influential Ithaca musician is back on the road to perform songs from his well-received March effort “Family Picnic.” The record once again finds the seasoned Dowd delivering a dark and avant-garde take on Americana, full of noise, black humor and twisted tales of love and murder.
Those unfamiliar with Dowd’s brand of roots music of should look to fellow left-of-the-dial genre acts like Palace Music, Songs: Ohia and Lambchop for comparison.
Ithaca-based glam-rocker Kurt Riley also will be featured on the bill with local support provided by dreamy post-rock outfit Which Witch and minimal guitar rock group Rabbit Jaw.
Zoom in close to a rose bush and all you see is thorns. Although twisted and hidden beauty still exists within the plant. Welcome to the music of Johnny Dowd in all its thorny beauty. For over thirty years Dowd has been taken the unexpected path, an iconoclast with few mates.
Family Picnic, Dowd’s 2019 release, out on Mother Jinx Records finds Johnny tilling the soil of unrequited love, murder, and characters struggling to live a twisted American dream. As Dowd sings album closer Thomas Dorsey, “I sing songs of lust and depravity, that’s the only kind of songs come out of me.” Electronic beats, keyboard flourish, and what Johnny deems “ice-cream chords” drive a record composed of waltzes, shuffles, and boom-chuck rhythms. Dowd shifts between his bent-but-not-broke singing voice and a spoken word approach that succeeds where lesser artist would be chastised for “trying to rap.”
The instrumental “Hoodoo” preps the listener for an unusual experience as electronic beats, carny organ, and electric guitar collide with a xylorimba. Dowd leans on reliable past collaborators on this release including Michael Edmondson (backing vocals, guitar, xylorimba) and Kim Sherwood-Caso (backing vocals), while he covers vocal, guitar, and keyboard duties himself.
“The Man of Your Dreams” follows, “I’m not the man of your dreams, that is obvious to all,” Dowd sings. “If you must go, go slowly,” he duets with Kim Sherwood-Caso. The two voices grate against one another initially, but like sandpaper they smooth and blend together, hypnotizing your ears. Vicksburg dives into a world that, “was live by the sword, die by the gun.”
Dark tales abound on much of the record; the darkness deepens in the loneliness of “Walking the Floor,” “people around me are so computerized, I see the fear in their eyes, I look at them, they look away, it’s just another horrible day”, he continues, “I’m sad and lonely, nervous and depressed, my life without you is a big f*%#ing mess.”
Family Picnic is a survey of characters that would be at home in a Harry Crews or Larry Brown novel. Four Gray Walls dark um-pa-pa like folk polka dirge is almost fun until the lyrical punch lands, “a doctor can fix a damaged heart, replace what’s been broken with artificial parts, but the damage you cause only God can repair, whether I live or die I no longer care.”
Before the record risks becoming too depressing, a goofiness slips into the mix on Conway Twitty. “I wanna make some noise, I don’t want no peace and quiet, I’m here tonight to start a mother f#$*ing riot, I love the bright lights of New York City and I want to be a star like Conway Twitty,” Dowd sings. Let’s Have a Party keeps the party going with 80’s era keyboard driven electronic beats and synthesized tones while Dowd sings, “let’s have a party, just you and me, weekend is here, now I’m free…life is so hard, working class, work week is long, money don’t last.”
While songs about longing, loneliness, missteps, and murder are nothing new to the Americana songbook or Johnny Dowd’s work, Dowd continually reinvents his approach to these topics in a way that finds renewed energy and purpose. http://www.johnnydowd.com