Live @ Het IJle Land review by Enola.BE,HCTF reviews Family Picnic

Johnny Dowd :: Friday April 19, 2019, The Ijle Land, Ghent

20 Apr 2019

 Those who want to see them at work these days should go to the Netherlands or England, but yesterday there was another chance to see Johnny Dowd, the eternal maverick of roots music, live. Together with companion Mike Edmondson, the veteran worked his way through a bunch of blown up songs that remind you once again why you will rarely come across him in a traditional festival in the traditional media. More than ever, Dowd makes its own, unique mark on the songs that he offends.

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

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)

Johnny Dowd: Gent added to European tour

  • By Hans Werksman February 28th, 201

photo by Kat Dalton

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 albumMichael 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).


  1. Hoodoo
  2. The Man of Your Dreams
  3. Vicksburg
  4. Shameless
  5. Walking the Floor
  6. Stuttering Wind
  7. Family Picnic
  8. Dream On
  9. Four Gray Walls
  10. Conway Twitty
  11. Let’s Have a Party
  12. Little Jimmy
  13. Back End of Spring
  14. Thomas Dorsey

 – Original Article

Written In Music reviews Twinkle Twinkle


 Door Cis van Looy op 11 januari 2018

Execute American Folklore was al niet het meest toegankelijke werk, van de eigenzinnige uit Ithaca, met Twinkle Twinkle neemt Johnny Dowd de warrige draad van de voorganger op. Vanaf de openingstune Execute American Flokore, Again een wordt de luisteraar met een elektronische brij met daarbovenop het ondertussen vertrouwde, gegromde parlando geconfronteerd, regelmatig komt de ijle zang van Anne Coogan daarbij. Met uitzondering van het titelnummer zorgde Dowd met enige hulp van Michael Edmondson uitsluitend voor ‘de muziek’.

Hij nadert ondertussen de zeventig maar zijn experimenteerdrift is geenszins  getemperd. Alom bekende singalong tunes uit het grote Amerikaanse songbook worden met synthesizers en primitieve elektronische instrumentatie in, op het eerste gehoor vormeloze, hallucinante klanktapijten getransformeerd.

Het zijn niet bepaald de mooiste klanktaferelen, meestal ontaarden de traditionals, enkel herkenbaar door de vertrouwde tekstflarden, in een beangstigde soundtrack die wellicht niet alleen puristisch georiënteerde luisteraars de gordijnen injaagt en vrij snel doet afhaken. Als je het even langer volhoudt ontdek je Trouble in Mind. Dat nummer passeert hier op een logge beatbox structuur, ongetwijfeld de meest opmerkelijke versie van de niet alleen in jazz en blues milieus tot klassieker uitgegroeide song die pianist Richard M.Jones in de vroege jaren twintig van vorige eeuw componeerde.

Met Red River Valley wordt nog een oudere folktune in een bizarre rocker getransformeerd. Het duurt even voor in de grillige structuren St James Infarmary Blues of Jon The Revelator ontdekken. Met de macabere spoken word versie van The House Of The Rising Sun en My Darling Clementine verloopt dat vlotter.

Het beluisteren van deze langspeler is geen gemakkelijke opgave, we vermoeden dat vooral Dowd zichzelf amuseerde tijdens de opnamesessies. Ongetwijfeld enkel geschikt voor avontuurlijk ingestelde adepten in een nooit voltooide zoektocht naar curiositeiten. Muzikale amateurs die aan dat profiel beantwoorden komen ongetwijfeld aan hun trekken op de komende tournee met Melle de Boer.

Tracklisting Twinkle, Twinkle:

  1. Execute, American Folklore, Again
  2. Twinkle, Twinkle, Litter Sister
  3. The Cuckoo
  4. Trouble In Mind
  5. Going Down  The Road Feeling Bad
  6. St.James Infirmary Blues
  7. Red River Valley
  8. Rock Of Ages
  9. John The Revelator
  10. Tom Dooley
  11. House Of The Rising Sun
  12. Oh, My Darling Clementine
  13. Job 17: 11-17

Foto: Kat Dalton

 – Original Site

Execute American Folklore was not the most accessible work, from the idiosyncratic from Ithaca, with Twinkle Twinkle Johnny Dowd takes on the messy thread of the predecessor. From the opening stand of Execute American Folkore, Again one, the listener is confronted with an electronic pulp and on top of that the familiar, growling parlando, regularly accompanied by the thin vocals of Anne Coogan. With the exception of the title track, Dowd, with some help from Michael Edmondson, only took care of ‘the music’.

He approaches the seventy in the meantime, but his experimental drive is by no means tempered. Well-known singalong tunes from the great American songbook are transformed into hallucinatory sound tapestries with first-class formulas and primitive electronic instrumentation.

They are not exactly the most beautiful sound scenes, usually the traditionals, only recognizable by the familiar text fragments, degenerate into a frightening soundtrack that may not only stimulate puristically oriented listeners to pull the curtains and quickly pull them off. If you persist for a while, you will discover Trouble in Mind . That song passes here on a cumbersome beatbox structure, undoubtedly the most remarkable version of the song that has not only become a classic in jazz and blues environments, which pianist Richard M.Jones composed in the early twenties of last century.

With Red River Valley an older folktune is transformed into a bizarre rocker. It takes a while to discover St James Infarmary Blues or Jon The Revelator in the erratic structures. With the macabre spoken word version of The House Of The Rising Sun and My Darling Clementine that goes float .

Listening to this long player is not an easy task, we suspect that Dowd especially amused himself during the recording sessions. Undoubtedly only suitable for adventurous adepts in a never completed search for curiosities. Musical amateurs who answer that profile will undoubtedly get their money’s worth on the upcoming tour with Melle de Boer.

 – Translation by Google

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.