Johnny Dowd, accompanied by Kim Sherwood-Caso, Brian Wilson and Mike Edmonson, performed in front of a full house Saturday night in Mohawk Place.
Johhny Dowd's performance Saturday night was equal parts therapy session, confessional and testimonial. Accompanied by backing vocalist/percussionist Kim Sherwood-Caso, drummer Brian Wilson and keyboard player Mike Edmonson, the group performed Dowd's tales of dementia to a full house.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Dowd spent the better part of two decades living in Ithaca and working as a furniture mover. Success has come late in life for Dowd who, at 52, has suddenly received international critical praise for his claustrophobic tales of murder, sin and jealousy set to a country-blues backing.
Clad in black with a shock of gray hair, Dowd read his songs from a notebook as if each might be an unfamiliar diary entry. The singer's sandpaper and glue monotone vocal delivery resembled that of a wounded crow in its death throes, or William Burroughs desperately crooning a country ballad.
Whereas Dowd's repetitious vocal delivery practically dared the listener to pay attention, his guitar playing was a far more dynamic force. Combining styles of Stax-Soul legend Steve Cropper and avant garde guitarist Sonny Sharrock, Dowd's playing was alternately neat and spare, then tormented and strangled. Drenched in tremolo and reverb, his guitar phrasing spat forth the psychosis inherent in the writer's songs better than his lean vocals.
On "Worried Mind," Dowd and company blended a waltz-type backing to the singer's confessional of redemption, as Sherwood-Caso's lilting voice soared with a chorus handily lifted from Hank Williams "Jambalaya." Wilson's drumming and Edmonson's keyboards accented the dark quality of Dowd's songs sounding like a mix of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band and down tempo Gun Club.
-- Mark Norris