Johnny Dowd

Texas Platters

Phases and Stages

Johnny Dowd

The Pawnbroker's Wife (Catamount) When Fort Worth-born Johnny Dowd landed on the Wrong Side of Memphis in 1998, the marrow-sucking directness of his debut cut like a knife through your run-of-the-mill singer-songwriter's fat slab of stupid lyrics and uninspired sounds. In his follow-ups, Dowd hasn't strayed much from this direction, sometimes evoking Dylan's lyrical masterpieces, while other times producing out of the ordinary, but not necessarily lasting, works. His fourth disc, The Pawnbroker's Wife, captures all the noir power of his debut, but also shows musical refinement with a Shakespeare-on-the-rocks story of cracked love. The simple relational bliss of opener "I Love You" is followed up by the nerve-chilling riffs introducing "Rose Tattoo," then comes the liquor-kissed, workingman lament "Monkey Run." Years in upstate New York haven't worn away the edges of Dowd's Texas drawl, which conveys the two-minute sonic diatribe "Sweeter Than Honey" as easily as the deadpan delivery of "Billy Blu." The seventh of 14 cuts, "Judgment Day" is the album's peak, portraying the stark cruelty of capital punishment the way only a Texan can. Musically, Dowd's songs draw from Sixties space rock, country, cinematic works, and the deep alcoves of he and his band's imagination. The sitar in the chorus of the penultimate "True Love" somehow avoids the gimmicky, while closer "Sleeping in the Grass" has a Beach Boys-esque orchestration. Overall, The Pawnbroker's Wife once again confirms Dowd as a certified original. (Johnny Dowd plays the Red Eyed Fly, Saturday, Oct. 12.)

***.5

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