Johnny Dowd, Kurt Riley, Rabbit Jaw, Which Witch
Saturday, December 7, 7pm doors/8pm show, $7
Ithaca outsider artist
Also from Ithaca
Which Witch www.facebook.com/whichwhitchie
Johnny Dowd (born March 29, 1948 in Fort Worth, Texas) is frequently classified as an American alternative country musician, but typical of his style are experimental, noisy breaks in his songs and strong gothic elements in the lyrics as well as in the music. There is also a strong undercurrent of black humor and the absurd in his work. Although his early albums were most celebrated in the alternative country community, he has never quite fit into any particular genre.
He was almost 50 when Wrong Side of Memphis, his debut solo record of wracked country-folk-rock tunes, drew comparisons to people like Nick Cave in the alternative press. To a degree, that parallel was justified, as Wrong Side of Memphis devoted itself to murder songs and tales of doomed sinners. Dowd had grown up in Texas, Memphis, and Oklahoma before operating a trucking business in Ithaca, and his songs veered close to the source of American creepiness. Yet gallows humor and Dowd’s crackly voice tended to undercut any traces of self-importance, while his debut album — dominated by his singing and guitar, yet featuring spooky dabs of organ and synthesizer that placed him outside of the rootsy Americana camp — immediately established Dowd as an important cult figure whose weirdness seemed to be wrought from true experience. He performed at Mohawk Place not long after Wrong Side’s release, and several times over the next few years, including at Americanarama one year.
On his second album, 1999’s Pictures from Life’s Other Side, Dowd edged slightly away from the cliff, using a full band of musicians and a female backup singer to craft a punchier and less folk-rooted sound. His singing and lyrics, however, remained nearly as disquieting as they were the first time around. Temporary Shelter, issued in early 2001, and The Pawnbroker’s Wife, from the following year, were more accessible, produced records. In 2003 he was handpicked by The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening, a self-described fan of Dowd’s music, to perform in the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. He also made his major film appearance in 2003 with Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. The album Cemetery Shoes was released in 2004. Cruel Words, released in 2006, went on to win the Alt Country award in the 7th Annual Independent Music Awards the following year.
In 2006, Dowd, drummer Brian Wilson (aka Willie B) and Jim White formed the band Hellwood. Their album, Chainsaw of Life, was recorded in a cabin in New York, the walls of which were covered in musician obituaries. Hellwood toured the album in Europe.
Dowd released A Drunkard’s Masterpiece in early 2008 in the U.S., Canada and Europe, followed by a European tour in April and May. In October, he formed the trio Black Elastic with former band mates Kim Sherwood-Caso on guitar and vocals and Mike Edmondson on guitar. After several shows in the Ithaca, New York area, an expanded Johnny Dowd band was formed, composed of Sherwood-Caso, Mike Stark (keyboards), Matt Saccuccimorano (drums) and Willie B (baritone guitar). The group released its debut album Wake Up the Snakes in 2010. No Regrets and Do the Gargon (and a memorable performance at The Vault) followed.
Dowd’s solo-album That’s Your Wife On the Back Of My Horse was released in 2015 and featured on several tracks the singer/songwriter Anna Coogan from Ithaca. He’s been busy deconstructing the American folk canon on his most recent releases, Execute American Folklore, Twinkle, Twinkle, and his most recent, 2018’s Family Picnic…
Here’s some press on his most recent releases:
“The album of the moment, and probably of the year, is without a -doubt Johnny Dowd’s. Family Picnic is, pardon my French, a splendid cubist portrait of forty years of American music. Let’s say Georges Braque with a Fender amp and a flask of whiskey.” — Le Cri du Coyote (France)
“Dowd has made a career of making music full of piercingly bleak, hard fought, gnarled dreamscapes that make David Lynch’s tales seem like those of a choir boy. But just when I thought I had him figured out, Dowd delivers a blues record so beautiful that I cannot stop playing it. It is also full of demons that live on a merry-go-round with feedback and distortion taking the places of the painted ponies going up and down. Paradoxically, it’s his most accessible music in quite a while, maybe ever.” — No Depression
“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 (UK)
“The grizzled, weather-worn drawing of Dowd that peers out from the CD cover is matched by the dark and ramshackle country-blues noir within….’Vicksburg’ is a blood-drenched affair, the title track is anything but a picnic, and the country legend Conway Twitty gets a surreal namecheck.” — Daily Express (UK)
“Reverence be damned. . . .Twinkle, Twinkle finds the prolific miscreant sifting through some of the keystones of American blues, folk, and jazz and giving them a radical makeover. . . . few manage to recycle existing musical forms quite like him.” — Rob Hughes (Americana album of the month, Uncut, February 2018)
“Soaked in swirling guitars with extraterrestrial synth sounds throughout Dowd here creates a piece which is on a par with the best of Beck.” — Americana-uk.com
“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 on Execute American Folklore. . . . Gloriously deviant.” — Andy Gill, The Independent (London)
“Dowd has dusted off the same drum machine that was the bedrock of 1997 debut Wrong Side of Memphis, concocting tart rhythms and overlaying them with distorted bursts of guitar and busy electronica. These are songs about getting laid and getting dumped, about women, devilry and familial dysfunction, often funny and invariably dark. As such it twists from blues and soul to punk and experimental rock, though Dowd’s terrific voice (like a Texan panhandle Mark E. Smith) roots everything in country soul. . . .Suffice to say, this is vintage Dowd.” — Rob Hughes, Uncut, April 2015 Americana Album of the Month
If Dowd’s music does not become the sound track of the next Twin Peaks, it will be a travesty. David Lynch are you listening?” – Alan J. Taylor, No Depression
Here’s a little tour documentary: www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-Z9pX-O_Lo
Record Store Day in The Netherlands 2015: www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-tTs6F1Tok
A live track from 1998: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtnOTz1DOoc
And a couple of relatively recent interesting videos:
He’s had at least two songs written about him:
Kurt Riley is an anachronism. A composer, performer, vocalist, lyricist, and instrumentalist, he has recorded a litany of pop gems in the past decade. Amalgamating genres as disparate as post-punk, R&B, glam rock, and Delta blues, Riley has created a singular discography. In addition to recording with Grammy Award-winning engineers and Top 40 producers, Riley gives dynamic, award-winning live performances. His music has been broadcast on Sirius/XM Radio, and his releases have garnered serious acclaim from journalists across the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.
Now Riley enters a new chapter. Having just signed to New Vine Records, and rebranded as kurt.riley+praxis, he & his band are moving headlong into a futuristic aesthetic – the Chrome Empire.
“His scintillating brand of punk, New Wave, and glam rock will excite you about the direction of contemporary music.” – WVBR 93.5 FM
“Toward the end of his life, David Bowie once characterized himself as a man lost in time, but Kurt Riley is just beginning to find himself in it.” – ECM Records
“(Riley’s music) is terrific. Bowie-esque, Marc Almond-esque, Placebo-esque. Visually arresting…(he) deserves some exposure.” – Alan Cross’s A Journal of Musical Things
Event page: www.facebook.com/events/271648790422382