|Sept/Oct 1999 Music Review|
Copyright 1999, KOCH Records
Distributed by KOCH Entertainment LLC
The first song on Pictures from Life's Other Side is a little jarring to the sensibilities. Actually, all the songs are jarring in one way or another, but that first song is just plain unpleasant. The image that comes to mind is of Nick Cave sitting in on a session with Morphine and something going terribly wrong. Luckily, I persevered and waited for track number-two. From then on, I was hooked.
Track number-two, titled "Worried Mind," and featuring a chorus lifted from Hank Williams' "Jambalaya," is pure, sinister listening pleasure. Johnny Dowd is funny, scary, and ultimately, highly entertaining. His musical arrangements are inventive, occasionally hypnotic, even sensual... let's see, what other adjectives can I throw in here? I'll say this. Try slow-dancing to "Worried Mind" by candlelight and see if you don't have some kind of epiphany.
Johnny Dowd is like the Hal Ketchum of the current indie scene. You may recall that Ketchum broke through as a country music recording artist only after a much less visible career in construction or roofing or some such. Similarly, Dowd was in the army and then worked as a furniture mover for many of his fifty-one years, although since he released his first album, Wrong Side of Memphis, which showed up on a number of critics' Ten Best lists for 1998, he might be able to hire someone to move his furniture now.
Dowd writes his own songs, and given the nature of these tunes, it's no surprise that he gets a lot of press as some kind of weirdo. Jason Ankeny, a critic for the All-Music Guide, described Dowd's work as "sick, tisted... and genuinely horrifying." I don't know if it's all that. It's what rock and roll should be: pushing the edge of the envelope. As Dowd himself has said, "a few times I lost the faith, but I'm still a true believer in the power of music. Rock-n-roll is my religion."
In "The Girl Who Made Me Sick," Dowd sings "You have a dirty, dirty mind; you got a missionary smile. It's a strange combination; it drove me crazy after a while." I wonder if this qualifies as projection, psychologically speaking?
I should mention that Kim Sherwood-Caso's backing vocals are perfect on this album.
Overall, Pictures from Life's Other Side rates a Groovy Factor of Four out of Five, which means I'd go out and buy it right now if I wasn't lucky enough to already own it.