Family Picnic review by Festivalinfo.nl

Recensie Johnny Dowd : Family Picnic

Al ruim dertig jaar behoort Johnny Dowd tot de gevestigde orde van de rootsmuziek, van de alternatieve country of dat wat wij tegenwoordig beter kennen als Americana. Maar ondanks de prachtige loftuitingen die er zoal over hem zijn geschreven, heeft Dowd nog nooit een groot publiek voor zijn muziek weten te bereiken. Niet vreemd als je bedenkt dat de eigenzinnige muzikant er werkelijk alles aan doet om maar niet de reeds geplaveide wegen te bewandelen. Geniale maar dikwijls bizarre spitsvondigheden en wereldvreemde avonturen in tekst en muziek maken het de luisteraars nu niet gemakkelijk. Vooral op het vorig jaar verschenen Twinkle, Twinkle leek Dowd behoorlijk de weg kwijt te zijn. Al eerder werden door hem de scherpe randjes en de viezige kantjes van de rootsmuziek opgezocht. Dat de drank en drugs daarbij een rol speelden lijkt waarschijnlijk. De vertroebelde blik maakte zijn muziek en zijn teksten echter echter altijd fascinerend. Om de sfeer te optimaliseren zocht hij regelmatig een inspirerende omgeving op. Zo begon hij ooit met schrijven in het kantoor van zijn verhuisbedrijfje, maar maakte hij later ook eens gebruik van een studio waarvan de muren volledig waren voorzien van overlijdensberichten. Maffe onderwerpen en thema’s als ‘moord’, ‘dood’ en ook de trieste kanten van de liefde werden altijd al graag bezongen door de ooit in Texas geboren, maar tegenwoordig in New York woonachtige muzikant. Wie dacht dat Dowd zijn wilde haren inmiddels wel kwijt zou zijn geraakt in de loop van de tijd, en zo’n vijftien studioalbums later, komt bedrogen uit.

Op het eerder dit jaar verschenen Family Picnic horen we hem namelijk weer op de zijn zo bekende zwartgallige wijze. Na eerst de luisteraar op het verkeerde been te hebben gezet met de vreemde instrumentale opener ‘Hoodoo’, volgt een even zo merkwaardige wals, waarin Johnny stoeit met distortion en andere gruizige tonen die je uit een elektrische gitaar kunt toveren. ”I was never the man of your dreams” klinkt het vals, maar zeer gemeend gezongen. In het donkere ‘Vicksburg’ lijkt het zelfs of Tom Waits tijdens het opnemen de studio is komen binnensluipen. De Amerikaanse Burgeroorlog wordt hier op wel heel bijzondere wijze beschreven. Angstaanjagend is het, zonder enige remming. Het is typerend voor Dowd waarvan je je nauwelijks kunt voorstellen dat hij inmiddels de zeventig jaar is gepasseerd. Met puntig gitaarwerk en elektronische beats rapt hij zich door ‘Shameless’ en begeeft hij zich tijdens ‘Walking The Floor’ in een vreemde duistere wereld. Met vocale hulp van Kim Sherwood-Caso en ondersteund door Michael Edmondson op gitaar en xylorimba, een bijzonder slaginstrument, neemt Dowd de luisteraar mee in normale, alledaagse gebeurtenissen zoals een familie-picknick, maar is niets zoals het lijkt dat het is. Vrijwel alles ontaardt in een surrealistische toestand en lijkt genialiteit en waanzin heel nauw met elkaar verwant. Hartstochtelijk gezongen is de lieve ode aan gospelzanger Thomas Dorsey door Dowd die, hoe tegenstrijdig ook, zich altijd voornamelijk met Duivelse muziek heeft ingelaten. Ondanks de goede bedoelingen klinkt ‘Let’s Have A Party’ weliswaar uitnodigend, maar wij slaan deze uitnodiging liever af en genieten op afstand van de muzikale capriolen van deze bijzondere veteraan op deze zeer interessante Family Picnic.

Recensent:Jeroen Bakker      Artiest:Johnny Dowd        Label:Mother Jinx Records
                                                                                   – Original Article

 

For more than thirty years, Johnny Dowd has been part of the established order of roots music, of the alternative country or what we now know better as Americana. But despite the wonderful lofting that has been written about him, Dowd has never managed to reach a large audience for his music. Not surprising when you consider that the idiosyncratic musician really does everything he can to not walk the paved roads. Ingenious, but often bizarre, quirks and worldly adventures in text and music do not make it easy for listeners. Especially on the last year, Twinkle, Twinkle Dowd seemed to be pretty lost. Earlier, he looked up the sharp edges and the filthy edges of the roots music. It seems likely that alcohol and drinks played a role in this. However, the blurred look always made his music and lyrics fascinating. To optimize the atmosphere, he regularly sought out an inspiring environment. For example, he once started writing in the office of his removal company, but later he also used a studio whose walls were completely covered with obituaries. Stupid subjects and themes such as ‘murder’, ‘death’ and also the sad sides of love have always been liked by the musician who was once born in Texas, but now lives in New York.On the Family Picnic , which was published earlier this year, we can hear it again in its well-known black-and-white manner. After having misled the listener with the strange instrumental opener ‘Hoodoo’, an equally remarkable waltz follows, in which Johnny plays with distortion and other gritty tones that you can conjure from an electric guitar. “I was never the man of your dreams”it sounds fake, but sincerely sung. In the dark ‘Vicksburg’ it even seems as if Tom Waits came sneaking into the studio during the recording. The American Civil War is described here in a very special way. It is frightening, without any inhibition. It is typical of Dowd that you can hardly imagine that he has now passed the seventy years. With pointed guitar work and electronic beats, he raps through ‘Shameless’ and enters a strange dark world during ‘Walking The Floor’. With vocal help from Kim Sherwood-Caso and supported by Michael Edmondson on guitar and xylorimba, a special percussion instrument, Dowd takes the listener into normal, everyday events such as a family picnic, but is nothing as it seems. Almost everything degenerates into a surrealistic situation and genius and madness seem very closely related. Sung passionately is the sweet ode to gospel singer Thomas Dorsey by Dowd, who, however contradictory, has always been mainly involved with Devil’s music. Despite the good intentions, ‘Let’s Have A Party’ sounds inviting, but we prefer to decline this invitation and enjoy the musical antics of this special veteran from a very interesting distance.Family Picnic .
                                                                        – Translation by Google

Real Roots reviews Family Picnic

Johnny Dowd
Family Picnic

De in Fort Worth, Texas geboren Johnny Dowd is van 29 maart 1948. De Amerikaan debuteert in 1997 met Wrong Side Of Memphis. Family Picnic is het zeventiende (!) album van Dowd. Naast vijf live platen is er in 2006 Hellwood, de samenwerking met Jim White en Brian Wilson voor de langspeler Chainsaw Of Life. Voor Family Picnic schreef de Texaan veertien nummers.

Voor het schrijven van zijn nummers gebruikt Dowd vooral een ritmebox. Hij vindt een ritme en schrijft zijn meestentijds rijmende zinnen. Het zijn verhalen uit het familieleven. Onduidelijk is of het gezinsleven van Dowd deze anekdotes oplevert. In titelnummer ‘Family Picnic’ levert het de volgende observaties op.

Every year there’s a family picnic
And folks come from miles around
Mom buys fried chicken on the outskirts of town
Little sister makes a salad
Big sister waits fior a call
Brother John’s in the bathroomLord, he’s climbing the walls
How much emptyness can you swallow?
Would a sixpack get’s you through?
Would it take a quart of whiskey to drive away your blues?

Simpele zinnen, Vocaal wordt Dowd geholpen door zangeres Kim Sherwood-Caso, gitarist Michael Edmondson siert het nummer met functioneel spel. Dowd slaat akkoorden aan op zijn gitaar. Het klinkt eenvoudig, maar is veel meer dan simpel en gemakkelijk uit te voeren.

Johnny Dowd is een zanger zoals er weinig zijn. Muziek maken die simpel klinkt is een gave. Gaat de luisteraar meezingen met een van de veertien nummers, blijkt hoe lastig de tracks in elkaar zitten. Dowd kan als geen ander de melodielijnen van een ritmebox volgen en toch een volkomen eigen geluid laten horen. De frasering van de op leeftijd zijnde zanger is uniek. Daarbij worden de juiste muzikanten ingezet om de muziek naar een volgend, hoger niveau te tillen.

Voorganger Twinkle, Twinkle (2018) verloor de aandacht door een overdaad aan experimenteel gefröbel. Bij Family Picnic heeft Johnny Dowd de gulden middenweg weer gevonden. Tracks die alleen van zijn hand kunnen komen, muziek die uit de pas loopt en toch telkens binnen de bekende lijnen eindigt. Family Picnic is een mooie start van een hopelijk geweldig muzikaal 2019. (Mother Jinx Records)

– Original article

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Johnny Dowd is from March 29, 1948. The American debut in 1997 with Wrong Side Of Memphis. Family Picnic is the seventeenth (!) Album by Dowd. In addition to five live records, there is Hellwood in 2006, the collaboration with Jim White and Brian Wilson for the long player Chainsaw Of Life. The Texan wrote fourteen songs for Family Picnic.

Dowd mainly uses a rhythm box to write his songs. He finds a rhythm and writes his most commonly rhymed sentences. They are stories from family life. It is unclear whether the family life of Dowd yields these anecdotes. In the title number ‘Family Picnic’ it provides the following observations.

Every year there’s a family picnic
And folks come from miles around
Mom buys fried chicken on the outskirts of town
Little sister makes a salad
Big sister waits fior a call
Brother John’s in the bathroom
Lord, he’s climbing the walls
How much emptyness can you swallow?
Would a sixpack get’s you through?
Would it take a quart of whiskey to drive away your blues?

Simple phrases, vocally Dowd is helped by singer Kim Sherwood-Caso, guitarist Michael Edmondson adorns the song with functional play. Dowd makes chords on his guitar. It sounds simple, but is much more than simple and easy to implement.

Johnny Dowd is a singer as there are few. Making music that sounds simple is a gift. Will the listener sing along with one of the fourteen songs, shows how difficult the tracks are. Dowd is able to follow the melody lines of a rhythm box like no other and yet make a completely unique sound. The phrasing of the old singer is unique. In addition, the right musicians are used to take the music to the next higher level.

Pastor Twinkle, Twinkle (2018) lost attention due to an excess of experimental gefröbel. At Family Picnic, Johnny Dowd found the golden mean again. Tracks that can only come from his hand, music that is out of step and still ends within the familiar lines. Family Picnic is a great start to a hopefully great musical 2019. (Mother Jinx Records)

Editors Note:

Copies of Family Picnic will be available at a release party gig and collaborative art show opening March 1st at the Grayhaven in Ithaca.There’s going to be all kinds of Dowd art on the walls and tables, some snacks and drinks, a photo booth and, most importantly, all proceeds go to the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes.

Johnny Dowd Live @ The Horseshoe Tavern

 

 

“Imagine if Hank Williams had mutated into Captain Beefheart, acquiring a bunch of primitive electronic equipment along the way, and you’ll get some idea of where Johnny Dowd is at . . . Gloriously deviant.” – The Independant (UK)

“It’s weird, uncompromising and, compared with anything I’ve heard this millennium, certainly unique…beatnik rock, poetry, prose, jazz rock, rap, screaming metal guitar, retro pop, spoken word and country noir.” – MOJO

“There’s nobody quite like Johnny Dowd, a dapper Texan absurdist…like Charles Bukowski backed by a jazz-country funk shuffle…putting to shame artists half his age.” – Uncut

JOHNNY DOWD > www.johnnydowd.com/

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Brian Sasaki & The Scuffed Souls > http://www.briansasaki.com

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Josh Mover & The Shakers > http://www.joshmover.com/

Doors 8:30pm – Adv. Tickets $9.50 @ Ticketfly: CLICK HERE > https://www.ticketfly.com/event/1672963-johnny-dowd-toronto/

Croatia’s KLFM reflects on Johnny Dowd

Johnny Dowd – KLFM

Johnny Dowd spada među one rijetke kantautore što unatoč eklektičnom pristupu ipak zadržavaju svoj nativni identitet, a rezultat sukoba tradicionalnog i modernističkog jest jedan od najoriginalnijih izričaja u suvremenoj glazbi!

Johnny Dowd je rođen 29. ožujka 1948. u Forth Worthu, Texas. Tako započinje praktički svaki tekst kojemu je cilj ukratko ili poduže proanalizirati život i stvaralaštvo dotične persone. No, navikli ste na pomaknutu strukturu ovih ‘najava’, i znate da autoru napisa nipošto nije cilj prepisivati sa wikipedije, niti iznositi općepoznate kronološke činjenice ionako dostupne u relevantnoj literaturi, tek uz napomenu kako su česte poredbe s Waitsom i Caveom apsurdne koliko i Dowdovi stihovi. Pokušajmo onda krenuti od geografske odrednice.

Već i ptice na grani znaju da je savezna država Texas zadnjih desetljeća iznjedrila ponajbolje američke kantautore; od Townesa Van Zandta, Willie Nelsona i Krisa Kristoffersona, preko Guy Clarka, Steve Earlea, Lyle Lovetta, Rodney Crowella, Jimmy Dale Gilmorea, Roberta Earla Keena, Billy Joe Shavera, pa do Scotta H. Birama i Justina Townesa Earlea – da spomenemo tek neke elemente te bogate lepeze.

No, ime Johnnyja Dowda se vrlo rijetko spominje u tom zemljopisnom kontekstu. Razlog tomu dijelom (no, uskoro ćete shvatiti – tek dijelom!) jest činjenica da je dotični još u djetinjstvu započeo onaj sveamerički proces mijenjanja lokacija i saveznih država – između ostalog, do pete je godine života već živio u Tennesseeju i Oklahomi. Neko je vrijeme boravio i u Kaliforniji, a u Memphis se vraća 1965., nakon razvoda roditelja, a te da bi se na koncu skrasio u gradiću Ithaca, New York.

Srećom, stara poslovica kaže da možeš potjerati stvorenje iz Texasa, ali nikad iz njega u potpunosti izbiti, istjerati taj čudnovati duh kojeg teksašani upiju rođenjem. Rekli bi pravnici, Iur Sole – pravo rodnog Sunca! Ipak, Johnny Dowd se po nečemu bitno razlikuje od imena navedenih na početku teksta.

Svi su oni, naime, stvorili prepoznatljiv stil temeljen na folku, countryju, bluesu ili pak kombinacijama navedenih utjecaja u varijabilnim omjerima. To se u određenom može reći i za Johnnyja Dowda, konkretno za njegovu ranu fazu, kada je djelovao unutar sastava Jokers s početka osamdesetih, te Neon Baptist ranih devedesetih. No, Wrong Side of Memphis (1997.), prvi uistinu samostalni album, odnosno rad koji je sada potpisan isključivo imenom Johnny Dowd donosi poprlilično drugačiju zvučnu sliku. Kompozicije izlaze iz očekivanih okvira često balansirajući na rubu prihvatljivosti, barem kada je o tradicionalnim okvirima riječ. Dowdova je nastupna ploča prožeta mračnom tematikom tipičnog southern gothica, i potpisnika ovih redaka podsjeća na Williama Faulknera u luđačkoj košulji. Može i ovako – zamislite da se radnja romana To Kill a Mockingbirdspisateljice Harper Lee odvija u paralelnom svemiru gdje američki Jug utjelovljuje nekoliko zadnjih krugova pakla, i gdje Scout u naletu ludila spaljuje Boo Radleyja u krušnoj peći… jeste li vizualizurali? Onda vjerojatno polako naslućujete ambijent ‘pogrešne strane Memphisa’. Nižu se balade o ubojstvima, griješnicima i prokletstvu: Welcome Jesus, John Deere Yeller, Idle Conversation, Ft. Worth; Texas, Ballad of Frank and Jessee James, Papa Oh Papa…, skladbe tek prividno odjevene u klasično folk/country ruho, jer sama struktura pjesama u simbiozi sa neortodoksnim izborom instrumenata – sintetizator, između ostalih – kreira sasvim neočekivan i isčašen doživljaj. Možda je opus kantautora Jim Whitea, koji djelovanje započinje otprilike u isto vrijeme (i s kojim će Dowd 2006. ostvariti suradnju na projektu Hellwood) najbliža poredba?

Ovo definitivno stoji, jer štoviše, Dowd će odigrati bitnu rolu u dokumentarcu Searching for a Wrong-Eyed Jesus, nadrealnoj priči o američkom Jugu koja je 2003. nastala kao plod suradnje scenarista Steve Haismana i redatelja Andrewa Douglasa, a po motivima Whiteova albuma Mysterious Tale of how I shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus. Scena u brijačnici je doslovice antologijska, kao i Dowdova izvedba pjesme Murder, sirovog dvoakordnog bluesa kojeg Johnny izvodi pod sivim nebom na groblju automobila.

Ukoliko je Wrong Side of Memphis najavio Dowdovu samostalnu karijeru, predstavivši već poznatog autora u novom, prigušenijem svjetlu, album Pictures from the Life’s other Side ide korak dalje. Ovdje Johnny već okuplja prateći sastav, koji ga uz određene iznimke prati i dan danas (primjerice na trenutačnoj europskoj turneji koja, očekivano, zaobilazi morlačke krajeve), što mu omogućuje daljnja eksperimentiranja u zvuku. Iskreno, jeste li sposobni predočiti teksaškog kantautora čije se kompozicije mogu obilježiti jazz festivale, ili se pak provući kroz tipičnu funky, pa i hip-hop DJ listu, svejedno ostajući u nativnoj folk domeni?

Albumi koji se nižu čitav novi milenij (spomenimo tek Temporary Shelter, Pawnbroker’s Wife,Cemetry Shoes, No Regrets, Do the Gargon i Thats your Wife at the Back of my Horse), zaključno sa dva zasad posljednja koji se taman promoviraju u našem sjevernom susjedstvu (Execute American Folklore i Twinkle Twinkle) možda i ne donose nekakav primjetan napredak u odnosu na očekivani Dowdov zvuk, no to i nije nešto čemu bi trebalo prigovoriti, pošto je njegov opus u cijelosti već pomaknut iz songwriterskog  mainstreama. Istina, na pojedinim se ostvarenjima Johnny u određenoj mjeri vraća klasičnom izričaju (klasičnom u smislu kompatibilnosti s ljudima čija imena, ponavljam, bodu oči na početku ovog napisa), no to su rijetki trenuci opuštanja, pošto će se on već narednim albumom vratiti u vlastite vode spajanja naizgled nespojivog.

O Dowdu ne treba pisati litanije, pošto je njegov štih potrebno (i jedino moguće) doživjeti slušnim čulom. Stoga se, štovani slušatelji, udostojite preslušati mali, trosatni izbor iz opusa ovog vrhunskog i neobičnog kantautora, jer ćete samo tako biti u stanju donijeti osobni objektivni sud. A Dowdov je opus itekako vrijedan temeljitog preslušavanja, posebno ukoliko spadate u skupinu puritanaca koji s prezirom i gnušanjem gledaju na suživot tradicionalnog i eksperimentalnog. Jer, u tom bi slučaju Johnnyjeve skladbe mogle na Vas djelovati iscjeliteljski i prosvjetiteljski!

 – Vjeran Stojanac       15/02/2018

Dark Side of Texas
Johnny Dowd is one of the few cantoutists who despite their eclectic approach still retain their native identity, and the result of the conflict between traditional and modern is one of the most original expressions in contemporary music!

Johnny Dowd  was born March 29, 1948 in Forth Worth, Texas. Thus, practically every text starts with a goal that briefly or aims to proanalize the life and creations of the person concerned. However, you are accustomed to the shifting structure of these ‘announcements’, and you know that the author of the writing is by no means the aim of rewriting from the wikipedia, or to make known common chronological facts already available in the relevant literature, noting that frequent comparisons with Waits and Cave are absurd as far as Dowd’s verses. Let’s try to start from the geographical point of view.

Even the birds at the branch know that the federal state of Texas has emerged in the last decades of the best American royalties; from Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, through Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovetta, Rodney Crowell, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Robert Earle Keen, Billy Joe Shaver, and Scotty H. Biram and Justin Towness Earle some elements of that rich array.

But Johnny Dowd’s name is very rarely mentioned in that geographic context. The reason for that part (but you will soon understand – in part!) Is the fact that it is still in the childhood that the all-American process of changing locations and federal states has started – among other things, until the fifth year of his life he lived in Tennessee and Oklahoma. For some time he stayed in California, and in Memphis he returned in 1965 after the divorce of his parents, and eventually ended up in the town of Ithaca, New York.

Fortunately, the old proverb says that you can chase a creature out of Texas, but never completely break out of it, expel that strange spirit that Teddy bears in birth. Lawyers would say,  Iur Sole  – the right of the native Sun! However, Johnny Dowd is essentially different from the names mentioned at the beginning of the text.

All of them have created a recognizable style based on folk, country, blues or combinations of these influences in variable ratios. This can be said for Johnny Dow, specifically for his early phase, when he acted within the Jokers composition from the early 1980s, and the Neon Baptist in the early nineties. No,  Wrong Side of Memphis (1997), the first truly self-contained album, or the work that has just been signed by the name Johnny Dowd brings a somewhat different soundtrack. The compositions come from the expected frameworks, often balancing on the edge of eligibility, at least when it comes to traditional frameworks. Dowdova is an inaugural board interspersed with a dark theme typical of the southern gothic, and the signatories of these lines remind William of Faulkner in a hijack shirt. It may well be this – imagine the action of the novel  To Kill a Mockingbirdwriter Harper Lee takes place in a parallel universe where American South embodies a few last rounds of hell, and where Scout in a maddening madness burns Boo Radley in a baking oven … are you visualizing? Then you probably slowly feel the ambiance of ‘the wrong side of Memphis’. Ballads of Murders, Sinners, and Curse:  Welcome Jesse, John Deere Yeller, Idle Conversation, Ft. Worth; Texas, Ballad of Frank and Jessee James, Pope Oh Papa …, the compositions are apparently dressed in classical folk / country costumes, because the structure of the songs in symbiosis with the unorthodox selection of instruments – the synthesizer, among others – creates a completely unexpected and exaggerated experience. It may be the work of Jim White, who works roughly at the same time (and with which Dowd 2006 will co-operate on the project Hellwood ) the closest match?
This is definitely because, moreover, Dowd will play a major role in the documentary ”  Searching for a Wrong-Eyed Jesus”, a  surreal story about the South of America, which came in 2003 as the fruit of collaboration between scriptwriter Steve Haisman and director Andrewa Douglas, and White’s album  Mysterious Tale of how I shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus . The scene in the barber shop is literally anthology, as well as Dowd’s performance of the Murder song  , the crude two-tone blues Johnny performs under the gray sky at the car cemetery.

If  Wrong Side of Memphis  announced Dowd’s stand-alone career, presenting a well-known author in a new, duller light, the album  from the Life’s other Side  goes a step further. Here, Johnny is already gathering a companion, which, with certain exceptions, is still tracked today (for example, on a current European tour that, by the way, forbids the Morlachian regions), allowing him to continue experimenting with sound. Frankly, are you able to present a Texan singer whose compositions can mark jazz festivals or go through a typical funky and hip-hop DJ list, still remaining in the native folk domain?

Albums that are down the whole new millennium (just mention  Temporary Shelter, Pawnbroker’s Wife, Cemetry Shoes, No Regrets, Do the Gargon and Thats Your Wife at the Back of My Horse ), ending with the two last ones that are just promising in our northern neighborhood ( Execute American Folklore  and  Twinkle Twinkle) may not even make some noticeable progress with respect to the expected Dowd sound, but that is not something to obey, since his opus has been entirely moved from songwriter mainstream. True, on certain achievements, Johnny returns to a certain extent classical expression (classic in terms of compatibility with people whose names, I repeat, point their eyes at the beginning of this article), but these are rare moments of relaxation, as he will return to his own next album the connection water seems unmatched.

There is no need to write a lithian about Dowda, since his or her mind is needed (and only possible) to hear the hearing. Therefore, listened to listeners, listen to the small, three-choice choices from the opus of this top-class and unusual songwriter, for you will only be able to bring a personal objective court. And Dowd’s opus is a worthwhile thorough listening, especially if you fall into a group of Puritans who, with disdain and disdain, look at the coexistence of traditional and experimental. Because, in that case, Johnny’s songs could have a healing and enlightening effect on you!

 – Translation by Google

The Sante Fe New Mexican reviews Twinkle Twinkle

TERRELL’S TUNE-UP: Johnny Dowd’s Twinkle Twinkle

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican

I love great old American folk songs and other hoary tunes from past centuries. And I love radical reinterpretations of great American folk songs, ancient murder ballads, epic love ballads, supernatural weirdness, field hollers, proto-Tin Pan Alley standards, Stephen Foster classics, and spirituals.

Neil Young’s Americana, with its fearsome take on “She’ll Be Comin’ ’Round the Mountain” (retitled “Jesus’ Chariot” and recast as an appeal to our space-alien forefathers), is a prime example of this. Lesser known is Snakefarm’s Songs From My Funeral, in which singer Anna Domino puts a funky, electronic, atmospheric twist on spooky old tunes like “St. James Infirmary Blues,” “Banks of the Ohio,” and “House of the Rising Sun.”

If stodgy old purists balked at these efforts, Johnny Dowd’s new album Twinkle, Twinkle should give them all heart attacks. Dowd doesn’t bring these songs into the present. He doesn’t take them to the future. He takes them straight to hell — and listeners not only will feel the heat, they’ll smell the devil’s breath.

With Dowd on vocals, guitar (torturing the poor thing), keyboards, and other instruments, plus backing vocals by Anna Coogan and Michael Edmondson, most of the songs here will take on different shades, spotlight hidden corners, and reveal strange new meanings. It’s like a dream in which familiar things — in this case, the lyrics of the songs — melt into menacing new forms. The closest comparison I can come up with is The Residents, those mysterious masked mutants who have applied their strange craft to the works of Elvis, Hank Williams Sr., James Brown, and others. Dowd sounds downright Residential on this album.

Dowd’s prominent drawl is not affected. He was raised in Texas and Oklahoma. But for the last few decades he has resided in Ithaca, New York, where he has earned his daily bread operating a moving company. He didn’t start recording until he was nearly fifty, when he released his 1998 debut, Wrong Side of Memphis, full of off-kilter original murder ballads and other tales of the underbelly.

Starting off Twinkle, Twinkle with an original song called “Execute American Folklore, Again” (an obvious reference to the title of his previous album), Dowd lays out his purpose. And while you’re still scratching your head over that one, he goes into the title song, a version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” with industrial percussion, Coogan singing a surreal soprano, and a demonic electronic voice that seems to be mocking Dowd’s earnest recitation.

That’s followed by a Dada-like take on one of my favorite folk songs. Even before Dowd got his hands on it, “The Cuckoo” was filled with mystery, with its seemingly unconnected references to Independence Day (“She never hollers cuckoo ’til the fourth day of July”) and the Jack of Diamonds robbing you of your silver and your gold. It’s an old British ballad that I suspect has evolved into a patchwork of two or three songs. It became a folk-scene standard in the ’50s when Harry Smith put Clarence Ashley’s version of it on his Anthology of American Folk Music.There are great versions by Doc Watson, The Holy Modal Rounders, Taj Mahal, Dave Alvin, and — perhaps my favorite — by Big Brother & The Holding Company. But Dowd does the most cuckoo “Cuckoo.” He makes this bird holler louder than anyone (and several months before the fourth of July).Dowd’s take on the New Orleans classic “St. James Infirmary Blues” sounds even more ominous than a song about viewing your sweetheart’s corpse in a hospital morgue is supposed to sound. He includes an opening-verse framing device that Cab Calloway and others omitted:

“… Old Joe’s barroom, it was on the corner of the square./The usual crowd was assembled, and Big Joe McKinney was there./He was standing by my shoulder. His eyes were bloodshot red/He turned to the crowd around him and these are the words he said.”

When Dowd sings the part in which the narrator fantasizes about his own funeral, he changes a line, perhaps to add cosmic significance: “Put a $20 gold piece on my watch chain/So that God will know I died standing pat.”

Other highlights of Twinkle, Twinkle include what sounds like a Martian hip-hop interpretation of “Rock of Ages.” Dowd punctuates the versions saying “Rock! I said Rock!” with a crazy guitar twang coming in behind him. On “John the Revelator,” Dowd delivers each line as if he’s relaying information that could get him killed. “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” sounds like a road trip into another dimension. Yes, it’s strange, but I bet Woody Guthrie would have gotten a kick out of it.

And there’s “Tom Dooley,” in which Dowd ends the song by singing a verse of “Jesus Loves Me.” And on “Oh, My Darling, Clementine,” Dowd actually sings the melody, backed up by Coogan on the choruses. This is about as straight as he plays it, at least until the last minute or so of the song — in which the music gets stranger and “Jesus Loves Me” makes a return.

He ends the album with some Bible verse — “Job 17: 11-17” — taking about as many liberties with the Good Book as he does with the folk songs. The Bible says, “If I wait, the grave is my house: I have made my bed in the darkness. I have said to corruption, `You are my father’: to the worm, `You are my mother, and my sister.’” Dowd adds words you never heard in the Bible: “TGIF, thank God it’s Friday, gonna have a party. … Hey everybody, come on over to my house.”

When my kids were growing up, I warned them not to accept party invitations from strangers spouting Bible verses full of worms and death. But Dowd’s crazy party is pretty hard to resist.

Video time!

Well Hell’s bells, I couldn’t find any videos of Twinkle Twinkle songs to post here. But here are a few of my favorites from the past.

Here’s an ode to Nancy Sinatra:

To this next song, I pledged my eternal love .

And going way way back to 1999, this one from Dowd’s second album, Pictures from Life’s Other Side this one still haunts my nightmares.

 – Original site

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