Spotlight:Johnny Dowd

Johnny Dowd was almost 50 when Wrong Side of Memphis, his record of wracked country-folk-rock tunes, drew comparisons to Nick Cave in the alternative press. To a degree, the parallel is justified. Wrong Side of Memphis, after all, is devoted in large part to murder songs and tales of doomed sinners, and suffused with outlaw paranoia. Yet Dowd is -- as someone who grew up in Texas, Memphis, and Oklahoma, and now runs a trucking business in upstate New York -- someone who's genuinely closer to the source of American creepiness. He's also not so damn serious about it all; aside from the gallows humor permeating much of his work, his crackly voice tends to undercut any traces of self-importance. Dowd's sound is dominated by his singing and guitar, yet spooky dabs of organ and synthesizer place him outside of the rootsy Americana camp. His debut immediately established him as an important cult figure whose weirdness seemed to be wrought from true experience, and not the result of some phony pose. 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 Pawnbroker's Wife, from the following year, were more accessible, produced records. Cemetary Shoes followed in 2004.
Modern music recommends his Pictures from Life's Other Side album

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