Twinkle Reviews

Blabber ‘n’ Smoke

A Glasgow view of Americana and related music and writings

Johnny Dowd. Twinkle Twinkle.

twinklecoverforsite460wJohnny Dowd continues to eviscerate Americana on this wonderful collection of popular songs from the past which are chewed up and spat out by Dowd in his unmistakable style.  The album opens with a manifesto of sorts on the updated Execute American Folklore (Again)and it’s hard not to express a chuckle when this Residents like  caustic surge of electronica mutates into  Dowd’s delivery of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. We all know this lullaby but here it’s a bad dream vividly reimagined, more akin to Der Struwwelpeter than Disney with Anna Coogan’s operatic voice adding to the disquiet. Like a mad scientist let loose in a laboratory of steam punk synths Dowd plays all the instruments on the album; farts, parps, clangs and ominous hisses permeate the disc sounding like Krautrock meets the Clangers at times. Songs such as Going Down The Road Feeling Bad, Red River Valley and Tom Dooley are punched into submission. St. James Infirmary Blues is spoken like a beat poet suffering from a benzo famine and John The Revelator is full on biblical fury as the synthesized sounds beep and warble while there’s more biblical darkness on Job 17:11-17 with Dowd coming across like a Manson type prophesiser although the song morphs from its biblical origins into an electro funk invitation to a Friday night funky party.  Dowd’s reworkings of these songs are bizarre and challenging but  he’s  continuing in the tradition of others, taking the songs and adding his own distinctive twist. I challenge anyone not to listen to his take on My Darling Clementine without a smile appearing. Website

 – Original Article

Twinkle, Twinkle by Johnny Dowd

From TheSampler,Radio New Zealand 27 March 2018

Johnny Dowd sings a few family favourites – as you’ve never heard them before. Nick Bollinger wonders whether it was worth the risk.

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Johnny Dowd Photo: (c) Kat Dalton

Don’t look now, but I think we’ve got trouble. The folk club has just been invaded by a floor singer with a questionable sense of pitch, and I don’t know what that instrument is he’s holding but it don’t look like a banjo.

The singer is, in fact, Johnny Dowd, and he’s artist I’ve admired ever since his first record Wrong Side Of Memphis came out 20 years ago: a set of his own southern gothic ballads, delivered in a voice bordering on the tuneless and accompanying himself with a rough but effective guitar.

Twinkle, Twinkle

Twinkle, Twinkle Photo: supplied

The whole thing seemed risky, yet it worked, as though a character in a Tom Waits song had seized the means of production and made his own record. Dowd has kept making his own records – fifteen at last count – and kept taking risks. He’s flirted with different settings – including lounge jazz and, believe it or not, prog rock – but the music has always been imprinted with his dark, Bukowski-esque world view. Lately he’s been trying his hand at electronica. Oh, and folk songs.

‘Tom Dooley’, the murder ballad cheerfully popularised by the Kingston Trio, is a song Johnny Dowd might almost have written himself, and no one has ever made the narrator seem more convincingly psychopathic as he does during the spoken verses. But if that one sits quite comfortably in Dowd’s oeuvre, his ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’is truly disturbing, and it’s not the only time Dowd does serious violence to a song held by many to be sacred. He also has a crack at the popular 18th century hymn ‘Rock Of Ages’ that goes for hip-hop and the hymnal simultaneously and I’m not sure either survives.

It’s startling, absurd and ultimately a little exhausting.

Still, an artist who doesn’t take risks is less likely to fail but by the same token is only going to give you the same stuff over and over again. Dowd is a risk-taker, so it’s always different.

Twinkle, Twinkle takes a risk and doesn’t quite carry it off, which doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth attempting, or that this experiment hasn’t simply cleared the creative paths to make way for something extraordinary. I’ll be listening to Dowd’s next one anyway, just in case.

Twinkle, Twinkle is available on Mother Jinx

 – Original Article

Neon Baptist Reviews from The Day

Double CD release party at The Rongo 10/1 9pm:

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Execute American Folklore

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Neon Baptist

 

 

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– Photo by Kat Dalton

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Counterpunch reviews Execute American Folklore

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Johnny Dowd: Philosopher or Junkyard Dog?

September 16th, 2016

For many years now, a strange pitman named Johnny Dowd has been eking out a large wormhole in the underbelly of American folk music, folk-rock, alt-country, “freak folk” or whatever the Pitchforkers fatally call it these days. This ruptured tradition claims artistic lineage to Hank Williams and Bill Monroe, but it actually owes more to a kind of twang urban preciousness common to the dour cheesecloth ‘70s product. Although there are several noble exceptions, Nouveau Hick is usually slick craft-irony in overalls. It abuses tropes already an ancient joke by the time ‘Blue Yodel No. 1’ was cut and lacks the cannibal inventiveness of true hillbilly verve.

Johnny Dowd’s threatening yet wise bust-out release, The Wrong Side of Memphis, came out in 1995 at the height of the counterfeit rube craze. It was impossible to tell whether he was its major unschooled apostle by accident, whether he was attacking the form while using its outward trappings, or whether he had some devious plan to ride a possible new wave of pop music to international superstardom. I suspect it was of the above, given the inscrutability of his art. On the way to these sinister ends, he has managed to produce exactly the kind of music our bohunk poets of yesteryor probably would have made had they dodged their young drunken deaths, picturesque OD’s or long years of savage exposure to the Nashville octopus. The bewildering energy of his music on record is only surpassed by his live performances, which reveal the living instincts of an authentic old school vaudevillian trying out the escape stunts of an outpatient on furlough.

Dowd’s singular voice loiters seriously with intent and hangs like White Owl smoke over music the sonic equivalent of ECT. Plumbed with an occasional countryish guitar moan or a keyboard riff that sounds like Wednesday eve at the hunting lodge of the Apocalypse, his music is permeated with the innocent suckerdom of a paranoid conspiracy being played out in infinite ill-lit lobbies at 3 AM. He is consistently tempted by the bright lights of places which cannot possibly let him in and has created an utterly unique persona of lonely abjectivity in music whose closest outside equivalent might be Warren Oates. As of this writing, he has dawdled and bellyached, stalked, simmered and tramped his way over the hallowed Smithsonian ground of American popular cant and canon for several decades.

But the important thing to remember here is in the difference between the pastiche operation of the songster clinician, a product which stinks of college and geek one-upmanship, and the real buzzard lope of the honest jaded practitioner born too late. Pastiche is a sickly amalgam of forms studied so long that the operator blindly rolls along over endless tracks of self-conscious aping and homage, never making a false move and ensuring that each Okie reference hits with a truckload of well-groomed renegade craft. Influences are forced

together in a please-all timelessness which does not so much return something from the past as duplicate it glibly in the present, as if the matter was simply a piece of real estate. Academic, you could say; or annexed; or careful. The Junkman on the other hand picks up disparate elements and crushes them against each other for space. The natural element of the junk barge is water, rather than the seamless glue of pastiche. Its found objects begin to form hard constellations and take on their own shadowy existences made from hard-luck symmetries. The kick is to watch the intrepid junker attempt to control this dire state of affairs and then shape its mass into some kind of unstable whole. The result is a product of chewed-out tensions, revolutionary amusement, and the valorization of debris which works against itself out of lack of trust but with itself out of homelessness. Some stellar examples: Stanley Spencer, Sun Ra, Claude Cahun, Butoh, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Johnny Dowd.Dowd’s latest salvo, Execute American Folklore, might be his most beguiling yet. He revisits many of his classic cuts in a much altered state, going after them like he wants to flatten them outright (A highlight is his masterpiece ‘Divorce American Style’, now dubbed ‘Sexual Revolution’ and given a kind of Marvin Gaye ‘Trouble Man’ treatment on permanent warp). The songs vibrate in the key of gas station hip-hop: a tin-pot drum machine, Dowd’s trembling skills on the mic, warbling Svengali keys, and female backing vocals that scream Restraining Order. The itinerant listener is assaulted by straight up-front disco and the occasional bleat of very dirty Germs-like guitar, backed by synthetic horns and the cooing menace of those oddly sensual feline voices. Dowd is at the top of his form in the lyric department and at the bottom of the world in the vocal, rasping his way through a landscape of track housing, depressing bars, and debilitating diseases. Somehow, these rejected transplants take and the whole impossible thing runs smoothly – or rather, relentlessly. Throughout, the great Dowd catalog of forgotten disasters and futile alibis is spiked with sincerely hieroglyphic, occasionally outright hilarious, lines which betray a secret in the Formica: Johnny Dowd is at the forefront of true American poets.

Maligned sub-genres of music reappear as guests of honor. Execute American Folklore makes the outrageous case for a profound respect somehow due to exotica tat and the ‘party record’, parolees from the orphanage of entertainments past. Dowd plays all the instruments here (his usual co-connivers might be in the joint or doing hard time on the late-night info circuit), which shows his great skill as solitary arranger. A partial inventory of effects: “Last Laugh” seems to draw on Murnau, the Bible, Rick James (very, very heavily), and the confessions of a radiator from the Abandoned Vehicles Bureau. “Funkalicious” sounds like a bag of drowned wombats being forced through the pipes of Ballard’s High Rise: heinous echoes and demonic voices create dance music for a world of wolven motels and shoe stores. The opener, ‘Unease With Deviance’, might be the best summary in title and the best statement of purpose the man has made so far. It’s the finest record our Republic has produced since That’s My Wife on the Back of Your Horse, Johnny Dowd’s last recording.

The record ends with what appears to be a kidnapping, ‘A World Without Me’. Someone has forced Dowd to do a breezy California pop song à la Go-Gos at gunpoint, or perhaps he’s just become convinced that it might be the way to go musically. This convertible out of Gun Crazy rides the thing out and leaves you wondering what the next move of such a dangerous man might be. After four consecutive listens of Execute American Folklore, I wait with great anticipation. So should you.

“My past is everything I failed to be.”
― Fernando PessoaThe Book of Disquiet

The morose clubfoot known as ‘Americana’ is doubtless long overdue for the firing squad. Still, who can execute a ghost? It seems that the condemned is both dead and alive. I am certain that the following exchange will be common at the kind of parties we will throw tomorrow by the light of the last electric bulb:

So, what kind of music do you play?

A little jazz, some blues, but mostly dowd.

 – Original Article

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Live at the FL Grassroots Festival

 

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Dowd formed a band in the 1970s named The Jokers, which included Johnny (guitar), his sister Jennifer Edmondson (drums) and Dave Hinkle (bass).[3] By 1988, the band had become Neon Baptist, who in addition to Dowd included Cally Arthur, Dave Hinkle, Mike Edmondson and Jennifer Edmondson, with Max Ormond and Kim Sherwood-Caso joining the band in later lineups.[4] Neon Baptist was one of the founding acts of the GrassRoots Festival, where Dowd has performed annually since 1991. -Wikipedia

The first in a series of interviews covering the 25th anniversary of the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance, starting off with one of the artists who was there at the beginning.

A consummate poet, and a man both ahead of his time and perpetually in sync with the moment, his music stands out as unique in the annual event, at which he has performed almost every year since its inception; Johnny Dowd is a local treasure. It was an honor and pleasure to sit down and talk to him about what the Festival has meant over the years, as well as what he’s got going on with the release of his latest album, “That’s Your Wife on the Back of My Horse”. -Fingerlakes Music Press

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Photo by Amos Perrine

Grassroots 2015:

Grassroots 2012, cuz he’s sorry for what he done:

 

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