Johnny Dowd – Pictures From Life’s Other Side – Review

Johnny Dowd

Pictures From Life’s Other Side (Koch)
by Jon Sarre

Didn’t this guy play Wally on Leave It to Beaver? Nope, sorry, that’s Tony Dow. Johnny Dowd‘s this furniture mover who lives in upstate New York and plays a little guitar and possesses a really vivid sense of tragedy, loss, and redemption. He apparently walked outta nowhere and made a record a little while back, I hear it was chock fulla murder ballads, somethin’ I’m not sure I wanna hear, cuz this new disc of his is billed as “the Love Album” and damn, it’s about as creepy as anything that’s come out recently. “Death is a gift,” Dowd drawls in the sad tale called “The Ballad of Lonnie Wolf,” so while it may be safe to assume that he ain’t gonna be the next Burt Bachrach, it’s kinda funny that when he does “I Hope You Don’t Mind,” his undying love-type number, he starts to sound a whole lot like a stalker.

That’s the intriguing thing about Mr. Dowd; despite all the hard’n’sad times on Pictures From Life’s Other Side, he’s sorta cornball goofy. “Worried Mind,” for example, employs a Casio-rendered Latin beat and guest vocalist Kim Sherwood-Caso chirping in for no good reason with the chorus to Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya;” then at the end, Dowd himself growls along, turning the track into a brief duet that sounds like George Jones and Tammy Wynette (but only if George had emphysema). Likewise in “God Created Women,” Sherwood-Caso implores him to “meet me in the parking lot up on level three,” up there, so the lyrics imply, she intends to murder him, ha ha.

As ya may’ve already assumed, even the sillier stuff can be creepy, especially coming at you via Dowd’s exaggerated nasal hillbilly drawl. Guitarwise, he’s like a minimalist Roy Buchanan (another anguished blues-savant). Sounds evoke the feel and atmosphere (like the funhouse whirl arrangement on the Hank Williams-penned title track, or the ghostly phantom Hueys on “Vietnam”). Sometimes he goes a bit over the top (like on the chilling “Rumble” homage called “No Woman’s Flesh But Hers” where he hits an open chord so inartfully that it sounds like all the strings, and by extension, his mind, are gonna break), but at least the listener can consider himself fortunate to be only a voyeur to Dowd’s inner torment. You get the feeling you wouldn’t wanna be the guy though, not even for a little while.
(740 Broadway 7th Fl. New York, NY 10003)