american.uk reviews Twinkle Twinkle – CD Release @ The Dock Tonite 2/17

Johnny Dowd “Twinkle, Twinkle” (Seven Shooter Music, 2017)

New AlbumFrom beneath the waters of this dark and eerie sonic soundscape emerge some of the most well-known songs in the American canon. The songs on this fine album are as familiar as, well, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ – the title cut – along with ‘Tom Dooley’, ‘Oh My Darling Clementine’, ‘Red River Valley’, ‘St. James Infirmary’ and ‘House of the Rising Sun’. But it’s a safe bet you’ve never heard them done this way. Dowd is highly original, even eccentric. Sometimes these songs, familiar as they are, can be recognised only by the lyrics.

This album is dominated by dark, deep electronic sounds, anchored by a heavy beat. Dowd is credited with playing ‘all instruments’, but there’s little here that will remind you of any instruments you’ve ever heard before. The vocals are also handled mostly by Dowd. But ‘intones’ would be a better word than ‘sings’. Mostly he just speaks the words.

This isn’t an album you’ll put on when your Aunt Clara comes for a visit. Nor will you dance to it. Of the 13 tracks, only the opening cut – ‘Execute American Folklore, Again’ – was written by Dowd. All the others are songs for the ages. There are no spaces between the tracks. One song sinks into the sonic depths; then, soon enough, a new song emerges from the electronic murk. While the album cover lists 13 tracks, this is really one 36-minute long meditation on the great American songbook.

Dowd, 69, didn’t begin his music career until he was nearly 50, when he released the album ‘Wrong Side of Memphis’, devoted to songs of sin and murder. The album turned him into a cult figure; since then he’s released one unconventional album after another. The music can fall harshly on the ears on first listen. But the album grows on you. And while it’s not dance music, it definitely has a beat – deep pounding drums punctuate the songs.

This, in short, is a work of creativity and imagination – the work of a highly unusual mind. You’ll hear some of the most familiar American songs of all time, reinvented as if they’d been run through a mad computer. But madness and genius are closely related. ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ is an album that, over time, will speak to you in many different ways. This one’s a keeper.

Heart of the Beast with Pere Ubu

 

 

The show was about as well matched with an opening act as you could imagine—the rare appearance in these parts of Johnny Dowd, an authentic outsider voice in his own right, doing his own idiosyncratic  thing.

Raised in Texas and Oklahoma, living for decades in Ithaca, NY, he’s

created a bunch of weird spoken word, warped country, and neo-blues recordings that have lately been accompanied by the incongruous sounds of a drum

machine. Like Jim White (with whom he once formed a band a decade ago, Hellwood), he blends absurdist spoken word poetry and unexpected music for something that like Ubu, is in the tradition of Beat poets, jazz hipsters, and street corner savants.

Rather than being menacing as Thomas was capable of being, Dowd, 69, was goodnatured and laughed along with the absurdity, allowing his guitarist Mike Edmondson to begin with an a cappella Joe Walsh, “Life’s Been Good” (when clearly his life as a rock figure has been something else) before the sudden jolt of “I Crawled Up the Rat’s Ass.”

As in the handmade poetry books he sold on site, he could come up with sharp lines that stood out. He pretended to be a funk god as “The White Dolomite,” and deconstructed “Freddy’s Dead” for his own purposes. He and Edmondson almost seemed more interested in telling the dumb jokes between songs.

They even made fun of the hopelessly dated disco-era drum machine that backed most of the songs, suggesting we “give the drummer some.” But they won over the crowd enough to have them sing along to “I love the bright lights of Washington, DC; I wanna be a star like Conway Twitty.”

He ended the semi-sincere a cappella of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” before rocking out with a version of it, encouraging a gesture that  contrasted mightily with the headliner’s scowl.

 – Oringinal article by Roger Catlin, photos by Richie Downs

 

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Then it’s the PEre Ubu show and merch sales. Only thing lost on this trip: Johnny’s moustache. It was one snoop too many.

A quick shout out to  Franks Diner, latest of the fine diner finds on the road with Johnny Dowd.

No Depression reviews Execute American Folklore

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Johnny Dowd
It’s hard to  believe that Dowd has 20 albums under his belt, not including his contributions to many others, including my personal favorite: a one-of-a kind revisionist/reimagination tribute to Townes Van Zandt, There’s a Hole in Heaven Where Some Sin Slips Through. 

I was fortunate to catch Dowd twice in July, where he played songs from his 21st, Executive American Folklore. I have described him before as William S. Burroughs with a guitar, with a pre/post punk mentality, mixed with alt-country.

Live, he’s a tightrope walker. But on record, the firebrand is controlled, smooth to the emotional touch as he glides — first on high, then back down to a semblance of Earth.

Dowd’s half-spoken, half-sung lyrics are like poetry set against more of an electronic backdrop that some of his other work, with a groove, a definite groove. You can also dance to it. A nice example is the segue from “Sexual Revolution” (“You’re either part of the problem or part of the pollution” with an under layer of a tortured “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” Wynette-style). That moves into the electronica of “Mr. Muggles,” punctuated with horns and the operatic vocal of Anna Coogan, where Coogan plays Klaus Nomi to Dowd’s Bowie. Then, again into “Rumba in the Park” with a Caribbean, rockabilly feel with a distant fuzzy guitar where you have found yourself in a Jim Jarmusch movie.

I don’t think Dowd has ever been more literate than on this album, with his vocals distinctly mixed so you can bask into the Beat-like delivery and imagery. The album is delivered into your hands on September 9, and is still available via Indiegogo, along with some perks. (Dowd is also included in ND’s fall issue, “Speak Up!”)

 

 – Original Article

Avoiding Alliteration and Assorted Admirers review the Lincoln Center Show

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Thursday night after a long day of work, I hoofed it up to the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center for one of their weekly free concerts. This one featured the 2015  Independent Music Award winner Bent Knee, and the ever famous Johnny Dowd Band.

As a personal stalker… I mean fan… of Johnny, I knew what I was getting into with this portion of the performance. Grunge Americana Rock, with a heavy dose of LSD, haunting female back up vocals, and an Alice in Wonderland trip into poetry land. As for 95% of the people showing up for the free show, I think this was a new, mind altering experience.

Johnny Dowd is definitely not for the weak of heart. It’s a wild ride into the depths of surreal lyrics, intentional off key notes to keep you uncomfortable, paired with rockin’ chords to keep you hooked. But the virginal audience held on through the whole ride, through the poetry about life in a Rat’s A**, past the wild guitar solos, and even went along with the sing along crowd participation. In the end, they came out with a new appreciation for a genre they might not have even known existed. And they all seemed to have enjoyed the process.

After Johnny, came the other end of the spectrum. The fresh faced and upbeat to Johnny’s seasoned darkness. Bent Knee, based in Boston, MA, Bent Knee had its beginnings at Berklee College of Music. As their website describes them, they are a “genre-defying art-rock collective”. They’re young, enthusiastic, and ready to rock. Their tunes even got some people out of their seats and dancing. I think the thing I loved best about this band was just the raw energy they had on stage. From the guitar player who looked like he was about to leap off stage, to the female bass player rocking out, everyone on stage just seemed to be having a genuinely great time. Pair that with some great tunes, and who could resist?

To learn more about the event and see photos and videos, check out the Johnny Dowd Fan Club Blog!

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Blog Bonus Feature:

– Edited by Nolan Edmondson

Johns facebook yr in review

I made my way over to the JD concert last night. The spring like weather brought out the multitudes so he had a packed audience. I tried to get up to the stage afterwards to say hello  but he was surrounded by fans. The electric guitar sound was riveting, his lyrics, country eccentric.  Thanks for the recommendation.

Later, A.

We LOVED the show: wanted more and more. I have all your CDs + book of poetry. I must check your site for new stuff, or T shirt, etc. There is no pigeon-holing you. AND you continue to creatively evolve. Amazing. Never know what you’re gonna come up with next. Maybe, someday, you’ll share w/ me how you do it. BTW: I would even love if u put out a whole CD of your poetry backed up by the appropriate, ambient weird loops. I could go on and on. Joyce and I sincerely loved the show. It was a great night for me, esp getting to meet my “songwriting/performer” idol. Thanks for a night I will never forget (unless I get Alzheimer’s). Go, Go, Johnny Go!

Reggie Bender