Johnny Dowd / Knitting Factory / November 17, 1999

A weathered musical chameleon with a deep southern drawl and charmingly self-effacing wit, gray-haired troubadour, Johnny Dowd, captivated a polite Knitting Factory audience this cold November night. His dark, brooding dirges feel like black storm clouds stretched across barren plains while his cracked swamp Blues recall avant-garde enigma, Captain Beefheart.

He may forever linger in obscurity, but Dowd’s a true talent with great musical sense. His version of Hank Williams’ “A Picture From Life’s Other Side” had a smoke-filled barroom atmosphere reminiscent of Tom Waits. The stark “Hell Or High Water” (from a promised future album) got stricken by cowbell percussionist Kim Sherwood-Caso’s paling bellowed voice, perfectly capturing the desolate mood of Dowd’s late-night scree guitar and Justin Asher’s creepy organ. After some humorous down home asides, Dowd broke into the ominously destitute “Cradle To The Grave,” which dealt with lost hope and a severed relationship.

The absolute highlight, “Worried Mind,” got lost in Asher’s toxic organ groove and Bob Hoffnar’s darting pedal steel screech before bewitched Caso coos through the Cajun standard, “Jambalaya,” midway through the song. Facetiously introduced as a love song, Dowd’s scraggly muttering and flatulent guitar buzz inundate the chain-like rhythm of “Greasy Hands.” As an aside, Dowd read his own cryptic poems after “Four Gray Walls,” a warm folk-based duet with Caso.

Unrestricted by musical boundaries and more than daring to make his songs as obtuse and twisted as possible, Dowd proves old dogs can still learn new tricks.

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