Raucous garage rock energy from maverick Americana figure.
Johnny Dowd is someone who ploughs his own musical furrow, and has been doing so since the release of his first album, the critically acclaimed ‘Wrong Side of Memphis’ in 1997, when he was just shy of his fiftieth birthday. His body of work is difficult to categorise, though it is possible to sense a kinship with left-field artists such as Tom Waits, Jim White, Will Oldham and the like. In truth, though, what they really all have in common is that none are unduly influenced by any of the trends of the day, and they also make music that sounds only like their own good self.
‘Homemade Pie’, Dowd’s latest offering, continues that tradition, and is unlikely to make a commercial breakthrough, or to see him climbing the stadium ladder – though one suspects he couldn’t care less on that score. Musically, it has elements of country, soul and blues, but most of all, the grungy, punky sound of 60’s garage rock. Most songs clock in at around three minutes, a few are considerably shorter. There is an energy and buzz to the feel of this record that belies a performer well past his seventieth year on this planet. Dowd himself offers the advice to play it loud in the car “with windows down and nothing but open road ahead”, and as listening guides go, that’s probably a pretty sound suggestion.
There aren’t really stand out tracks, per se…if you like Dowd’s style, there will be a lot to enjoy here, with lyrics exploring American life away from the neon, at times with precision, sometimes abstraction, but always with precious little air-brushing. There are some variations in his musical tropes, though, ranging from the queasy, sideways, tilting waltz of ‘Out For Blood’; or the frankly odd ‘Ladies’, where a kind of skewed German oompah band provide the backing for the repeated mantra “Where have all the ladies gone?”
Overall, though, it is the simplicity and drive of garage rock that provides the template for this collection, and is perhaps best summed up by the description in Dowd’s own press release – “a wry smile, a cut-off pool cue under the front seat, and a sharp eye on the rear view mirror”. Dowd turns that sharp eye on the current state of America, and there is plenty to enjoy in his roughly unadorned musings.
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