trailer-park noir

Wrong Side of Memphis
Johnny Dowd

By Tim Roberts

Brutal. Raw. Damned eerie stuff. Johnny Dowd, from somewhere in central New York state, has released Wrong Side of Memphis, a self-recorded collection of angst, pity, guilt, murder. Like some of the best art, or daytime talk shows, it both repels and attracts. And you could probably find a home for it somewhere in your collection. Just keep it fenced in with some barbed wire.

How to best describe the material on Memphis? Think of it as the dark, fundamentalist cousin of Bruce Springsteen's home-recorded Nebraska. A David Lynch film shot in scratchy 16 millimeter, the sound recorded through a hissy condenser microphone in the camera. Trailer-park noir.

Dowd sings in a flat, croaky twang. The songs are musically basic, from the one-chord blues of "Murder" to "John Deere Yeller," which describes the color of his sweetheart's hair (who also has Caterpillar green eyes) There's plenty of religious imagery in most of his lyrics -- betrayal, guilt, sin, all with zero chance of redemption -- as strange chords from an electric organ flow behind it all. Dowd's other lyrics are twisted, masochistic, accurate, as in "Average Guy," who has "reckless eyeballs. . . a suicidal heart" and a "robot girlfriend rippin' [him] apart. " Who's "so full of paranoia, I must be in love."

So why is this worth listening to? We may find the explanation in the same reason there is a fascination and market for true crime (including Ford Broncos and Bruno Magli shoes) and David Lynch films. It provides that cathartic glimpse of what's deep within the swamp water. And sometimes our briefly reflected faces glimpse back at us.