Music Reviews
Cemetery Shoes

Johnny Dowd Cemetery Shoes

(Munich) Buy it from Insound Rating - 9/10

Johnny Dowd waited until he neared fifty to release Wrong Side of Memphis in 1997. Since then the Ithaca (New York State) based artist has released several (I don't feel confident enough to place a number on it given the stuff (solo and collaborative) being sold on his tour and lack of a complete discography on the web, but at least five) albums including lo-no-downright evil-fi (for example his use of bad synths to create some of the scariest stuff I've heard on 2001's Temporary Shelter) music rooted loosely in Gothic country and blues. He's also found time to release a leaflet of superbly humoured poetry (simply titled Poems, the cover features a caricature pulling its tongue out), and produce an excellent album by Sheffield's own Chicken Legs Weaver. On his official website biography, he describes his occupation during the last twenty years as "furniture mover, songwriter and band leader", adding "I don't see myself as the saviour of rock'n'roll or anything like that." I've only got Temporary Shelter and the Down In the Valley "soundscapes" CD that was being sold on his recent UK tour, but everything I've heard by the man has been excellent. This is no exception.

Cemetery Shoes, Dowd's new release, features a couple of familiar collaborators (notably drummer Brian Wilson, a multi-instrumentalist to rival his namesake, and guitarist Justin Asher), and takes Dowd's 'Nick Cave meets Johnny Cash but different and twenty times scarier sung in a voice to give the characters from Lost Highway nightmares' blueprint and uses it in full band mode. Dowd is the lead voice here (he's previously duetted superbly with Kim Sherwood-Caso in earlier work) and the band help take the songs into slightly different territory while keeping quality high (I'm writing rubbish now, so I'll quickly skip to discussing the material).

All the songs here stand up on their own as fantastic recordings. Opening with Brother Jim (a mad Rolling Stones meets Moldy Peaches death Jazz country number) talking of a family's discontent (murder and extra-marital affairs with preachers included) beneath the refrain "the sun shines on everyone equally", Dowd doesn't let up. We get demonic cocktail jazz (Whisper In A Nags Ear), nods to Gang Of Four style punk-funk (Rest In Peace) and Dowd's traditional sardonic yuletide anthem (here it's the comedic Martian funeral country of Christmas is Just Another Day). The man's lyrics and vocal expressions are out of this world. I've had to aim for brief descriptions here as I could literally write 2000 words about just how excellent this album is. Subjects including coming of age paranoia, inter-family relationships, and dressing on a budget are dealt with succinctly in short monologues and cutting two-liners. My personal favourites include the "One day, I looked into the mirror, and I had a vision of myself standing at the edge of an abyss, and I wondered, should I jump, or wait until I was pushed" piece from Wedding Dress and "Clothes make the man, that's a material fact. My suit's ready made, comes straight off the rack" from the abattoir death march of Dylan's Coat (also featuring the coldest "fuck you" I've heard in long time). Even while singing a line as simple "don't forget your mum at Christmas" he manages to emit it in a howl of such tragi-comic despair that it's superb.

This review will doubtless be littered with appalling grammar and badly assembled reference [well, now you mention it... Ed.]. This is because this album makes me excited as a four year old with a space hopper. I really think it's that good. This is probably my favourite album of the year so far.