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Johnny Dowd | Temporary Shelter (Munich / Glitterhouse)
Having released his debut album at the tender age of fifty, Johnny Dowd isn't wasting any time, this being his third album in as many years and his most ambitious and fully realised work so far. The spooky cover shot is of Dowd's parents and the album, as a whole, takes marriage as its main theme. Not that it's a happy record. No way. Each song is so deeply steeped in guilt, betrayal and other demons, making the album a frightening, claustrophobic, but ultimately compelling listen. It begins with a swathe of churchly organ and then the beat comes crashing down resulting in horrible speaker damage. Through the maelstrom, Dowd recites in his inimitable half-spoken style, "The highway of life / It ain't no free way / For the cruelty you inflict / Someday you'll have to pay." He sounds like a preacher out of a Southern Gothic novel, spitting out homilies with a biblical sense of judgement, while behind him the music is like an unholy gestalt of Tom Waits and Black Sabbath. Through the course of the album, Dowd charts adulterers, ("Forget about your husband / He don't know what makes you tick / When he puts his hand between your legs / It makes you sick"), a widow bent on vengeance, a dying surfer still dreaming of the 'big wave' that will come and take him away, serial killers and abandoned children. It is a bleak palette, with Dowd sounding increasingly unhinged as the record progresses. The only glimmer of light is found in Hell or High Water which, despite a guitar riff so down and dirty it should carry a health warning, is a moving portrait of how companionship can stop the jackals of the outside world from tearing down your door. Epic in all the right senses, this album snarls and strains at its leash like an abused dog, spitting with energy and aggression. Imagine what Tom Waits might sound like after a course of Electro-shock therapy and you're halfway there.
CWAS #7 - Spring 2001