Sixtysomething veteran gets back in the saddle
Johnny Dowd has never run shy of a little self-mythology. The title of his latest effort cops a line from Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s 1957 tune, “Gangster Of Love”, in which a no-good cowboy makes off with the town’s womenfolk on his white steed, taunting the local sheriff as he heads for the prairie. “Around my neck is your mother’s locket,” scowls Dowd, like a man who’s just decided that his is the only law that counts around here. “Your sisters will dance at my wake / Your brother will blow out the candles on my birthday cake.” It’s a fabulously cocky introduction to a record that, like the very best of Dowd’s work, fizzes with wild tales and a mongrel approach to traditional American forms.
That’s Your Wife On The Back Of My Horse, the thirteenth album of his career, finds Dowd dispensing with his usual band and, save for the guest vocals of Anna Coogan, doing everything himself. In some ways it’s a return to first impulses. Dowd has dusted off the same drum machine that was the bedrock of 1997 debut Wrong Side Of Memphis, concocting tart rhythms and overlaying them with distorted bursts of guitar and busy electronica. These are songs about getting laid and getting dumped, about women, devilry and familial dysfunction, often funny and invariably dark. As such it twists from blues and soul to punk and experimental rock, though Dowd’s terrific voice (like a Texan panhandle Mark E Smith) roots everything in country soil.
The lovely, gliding “Why?”, a resigned ballad about the one who got away, finds a sort of companion piece in the woozy “Dear John Letter”. At other times Dowd is in full swagger, ramping up the machismo on rap-rocker “White Dolemite” and laying down an evil guitar riff as he recalls blue-eyed Linda Lou on “Cadillac Hearse”. And “Words Are Birds” is an everyday tale of killer dads, grinding moms and clever-clever morticians. Suffice to say, this is vintage Dowd.