Johnny Dowd :: Friday April 19, 2019, The Ijle Land, Ghent
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!
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)
Johnny Dowd: Gent added to European tour
Johnny Dowd has just announced a show in Gent on April 19 as part of his European tour to promote his new album Family Picnic: “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 a critical favourite, an incurable maverick, who is just too weird for the MOR Americana crowd to appreciate”.
Johnny Dowd goes back to the distorted country sound of his debut Wrong Side Of Memphis on his new album Family Picnic. Mind you, he doesn’t go full circle, because he never follows a consistent path with his unique blend of Americana and banged up electronics, telling tales about murder, booze and revelry against all odds. Longtime collaborator Kim Sherwood-Caso returns to the fold to add backing vocals, nearly a decade after his Wake Up The Snakes album. Michael Edmondson rides shotgun on guitar. Johnny Dowd: vocals, guitar, beats, keyboards
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.
Michael Edmondson: guitar, marimba
Kim Sherwood-Caso: backing vocals
Family Picnic is released on Mother Jinx Records. CD’s are available thru his website (and the merch table at his shows).
- The Man of Your Dreams
- Walking the Floor
- Stuttering Wind
- Family Picnic
- Dream On
- Four Gray Walls
- Conway Twitty
- Let’s Have a Party
- Little Jimmy
- Back End of Spring
- Thomas Dorsey