Johnny Dowd - That's Your Wife On The Back Of My Horse - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Johnny Dowd - That's Your Wife On The Back Of My Horse

by Andy Brown Rating:9 Release Date:2015-03-09

A maverick with a strong line in black-humour, musical ingenuity and storytelling, Johnny Dowd deserves your full and undivided attention. Dowd has remained something of an outsider figure throughout his career, blazing a distinctly underground trail of twisted Americana and absurdist blues since 1997s debut album, Wrong Side of Memphis.

The 66-year-old comes on like some acid trip-filtered amalgamation of Johnny Cash, Tom Waits and David Lynch; Dowd is a surrealist troubadour with tricks up his sleeve and a wicked glint in his eye. The brilliantly-titled That’s Your Wife on the Back of My Horse stands as his 14th studio album.

It’s clear from the noise-poem that opens the album that this latest instalment in Dowd’s illustrious career will be a substantially darker record than the mutant-disco funk of 2013's Do the Gargon. Fuzzy, menacing drones and backwards guitars shimmer and float through a rhythmless vacuum as Dowd explains in his languid Texan drawl: "That’s your wife on the back of my horse/ That’s my hand in your pocket/ Around my neck is your mother’s locket/ Your sisters will dance at my wake”. Dowd’s songs have always explored those two mainstays of rock lyricism, sex and death, with undeniable panache and there’s no shortage of either here.

Musically, the album see’s Dowd strip things back, the full-on band approach of Do the Gargon replaced by a drum-machine, some murky-sounding synths and his trusty guitar. It’s an approach that makes for a dark (but never humourless) listen, closer in spirit to the likes of the highly regarded Cemetery Shoes than Dowd’s more recent efforts.

Some further vocal contributions and lyrical counterpoints come from the reliably wonderful Anna Coogan (a prolific Americana artist in her own right). As usual some of the album's highlights come with Dowd's exchanges with his female counterpart, fleshing out the song’s scandalous narratives. Take the lo-fi, drum-machine funk of ‘White Dolemite’, on which Dowd sings of living the life “men dream about” against Coogan’s assertions that he “needs a spanking”. The relationships in Dowd’s songs have never been too straightforward, with adultery, infidelity and temptation never too far away thematically.

Dowd also finds himself drawn to God, poverty and mortality over the album's 14 songs, covering life’s big topics with the casual authority of a well-lived barfly. The cool, murky blues squelch of ‘The Devil Don’t Bother Me’ finds Dowd musing, “Jesus he’s my saviour but the Devil he’s my brother”. Dowd is certainly no angel, a gravel-voiced man in black who was breaking bad years before Walter White even left the school chemistry lab.

The defiant but damaged ‘Poor, But Proud’ offers some pearls of wisdom as Dowd and Coogan sing: “Ain’t got a dollar to our names/ but being poor is no reason for being ashamed/ Some riches are worth more than gold/ Without the love of a woman/ it sucks to get old”. Dowd’s gnarled vocals, showmanship and black humour are adequately matched by his unflinching honesty. Although, can it really suck to get old if you’re Johnny ‘Ultra-Scary Troubadour’ Dowd?

Highlights come thick and fast, but That’s Your Wife On the Back of My Horse is an album designed to be absorbed whole. The narratives in each song build to a make an involving trip through a unique mind. Like all great artists Dowd creates a world all of his own. I really can’t recommend this enough. 

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