Johnny Dowd Pictures From Life's Other Side

This is dark, desperate stuff and thoroughly original in its dank outlook. Comparisons to bluesy, Beefheart-ian bluster and Dowd's Waits-like, distorted growls (complete with musical carnival approach) precede this disc, in the wake of Dowd's obscure first effort, Wrong Side Of Memphis. The voice is bent and perverse. The often staccato guitar lines are acerbic fragments of sound that stab and penetrate. The rhythms are disjointed and irregular, adding an aura of irrationality to each haunted composition. Down-and-out subject matter hinted at by such titles as, "The Girl Who Made Me Sick" and "No Woman's Flesh But Hers" set the stage for the bizarre, with an unusual contingent of demons and grave-dancers. But one can't get the feeling that this has all been done before — the virtuosi weirdness seems slightly manufactured this time out. Roky Erickson may yet prove to be a relative. But big points for putting a new twist on the sheer madness of it all. There are multiple layers of music going on across the album's15-odd compositions (with emphasis on the odd). And it's just odd enough to be fun. Repeated listens reveal new musical and largely uncharted territory. Distorted production techniques, odd-tunings, eerie back-up vocals, bizarre instrumentation, junkyard percussion and off-key musings abound. Dowd's guitar work is Ribot-like and outlandishly devilish, and the transplanted Texan is living out the American Nightmare, but hopefully not too close to my house. Key tracks include the eerie "Vietnam," "Butcher's Son," "Bad Memories" and the captivating title track. Sprained, deformed pop, nonetheless. And you don't dare stop listening to it. Menacing, but almost too much. Let's see where this sits after the blood dries. (Koch)