Johnny Dowd is no ordinary artist. This mentalist maverick from Ithaca, NY, quite simply defies description. A Wikipedia entry makes an attempt, labelling him as alt-country, but a cursory ramble through his back catalogue suggests the emphasis is on the alternative. His latest offering, That’s Your Wife on the Back of My Horse, is another tongue-in-cheek masterpiece, which gives a firm and mighty middle finger to the bland clones of the music industry and those who created them.
Let’s get this straight from the outset: it’s not the kind of record you are likely to hear as background music, at middle class hipster dinner parties. Comparisons with Zappa and Beefheart are rolled out with futility where Dowd is concerned. Dowd is Dowd, a veteran hell raiser with a dystopian style and edge, that some 20 year-olds would give their right sleeve-tattooed arm for. That’s Your Wife is a tough listen from the outset, but it’s a deep grower, and the dry humour of the lyrics is matched equally in the musical composition. His experimentation with dirty country blues, deadpan hip-hop, nightmare grundge and ’80s electro synthesiser pop is an explosion of sound and distortion, which takes you to the edge of his worst nightmares and back again.
Track six, “Why?” is an absolute delight, but about as mainstream as it gets on this record. The sardonic humour is ubiquitous. “Fair is where you go if you wanna see the pigs race / fare is what you pay the bus driver to take you to another place,” never fails to raise a smile. Dowd’s subject matter is the seamy side of real life, life on the edge. This is a place where mothers “bump ‘n’ grind,” baby Jesus will beckon you, you’ll get spanked, ride in “Cadillac hearses,” whores will place caskets on trains, and everyone “just wants to get laid.” This CD is not for the faint-hearted.
“My Old Flame” is a lesson in deadpan hip-hop delivery for the aged. Backed by mean guitar, Dowd inserts the immortal line “She said how are you? / I said, I can’t complain. / I got all of the normal aches and pains.” “Poor But Proud” continues the groove, as Dowd grows old with exquisite disgrace, as he growls, “it sucks to get old” to the sublime backing vocal of Anna Coogan.
The finale is a sheer masterpiece, Dowd thanks his imaginary audience for listening, exhorting them to give themselves a round of applause. Three or four people clap and a narrator explains that the “Scary troubadour has left the building … With your wife on the back of his horse.”
If Dowd’s music does not become the soundtrack of the next Twin Peaks, it will be a travesty. David Lynch, are you listening? This is as close to small town America as you’ll ever get, unless you actually live there. Be scared, be very scared — “the devil don’t bother” Johnny Dowd and he’s coming to a venue near you.
The CD is released (March 9th) on Mother Jinx Records and is distributed via his website (US) and via Cadiz Records (Europe). Dowd embarks on a European Tour April 9-25, 2015.
Check out what’s occuring in Dowdsville at http://www.johnnydowd.com/