Singer/songwriter Johnny Dowd was almost 50 when Wrong Side of Memphis, his debut solo record of wracked country-folk-rock tunes, drew comparisons to Nick Cave in the alternative press.
To a degree, that parallel was justified, as Wrong Side of Memphis devoted itself to murder songs and tales of doomed sinners. Dowd had grown up in Texas, Memphis, and Oklahoma before operating a trucking business in upstate New York, and his songs veered close to the source of American creepiness. Yet gallows humor and Dowd's crackly voice tended to undercut any traces of self-importance, while his debut album -- dominated by his singing and guitar, yet featuring spooky dabs of organ and synthesizer that placed him outside of the rootsy Americana camp -- immediately established Dowd as an important cult figure whose weirdness seemed to be wrought from true experience. On his second album, 1999's Pictures from Life's Other Side, Dowd edged slightly away from the cliff, using a full band of musicians and a female backup singer to craft a punchier and less folk-rooted sound. His singing and lyrics, however, remained nearly as disquieting as they were the first time around. Temporary Shelter, issued in early 2001, and The Pawnbroker's Wife, from the following year, were more accessible, produced records. Cemetery Shoes followed in 2004, while A Drunkard's Masterpiece (comprised of three opuses that flaunt Dowd's patented mix of dark, mutant alt-country) arrived four years later. The following year, in 2010, Dowd released Wake Up The Snakes. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi