For most of his curiously aberrant career, Johnny Dowd has trafficked in a form of outsider Americana which drew on noble antecedents while simultaneously subverting the roots expectations with bursts of atonal Beefheartian noise and pulp-fiction lyrics of grim gothic irony. So when Gargon, the antihero of this latest album, announces, “My misery with you I would love to share”, you tend to fear the worst.
But what's this? Gargon seems to be having fun, musically at least. “Gargon Gets All Biblical”, the track in question, turns out to be an eight-minute buzz-saw-guitar strut, striding along with the panache of his fellow Texans ZZ Top – though it's doubtful Billy Gibbons would essay a guitar line quite as tortured as that which Dowd scrawls across the song. But it's a groove, one unlike any Dowd has devised before, and without a whiff of country about it.
The earthy, funky tone continues with the predatory keyboard throb of “Shaquille”, the hapless Gargon recalling his visits to bar, barbershop and church, and the recurrent response he receives: “You smell like dust!”
Elsewhere, the heavily treated guitar and Fender Rhodes piano of “Gargon Knocks” brings to mind Bitches Brew, while “Gargon's Disco Balls” recalls Led Zeppelin's “Trampled Underfoot” riff, Dowd explaining the character's genesis in parental abandonment: “Gargon's balls hang like twin orbs in a fatherless sky... a motherless child abandoned in a filling station in the great state of Nebraska”. It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for the poor chap, had you not just been exposed to the implications of the sinister “Girl in a Suitcase”.
What's certain about Do the Gargon is that there's nothing else around that sounds quite like this, with its febrile, feverish mix of Texas boogie, punk-metal and distorted jazz-funk. Dowd claims he'd been listening to a lot of Betty Davis and ZZ Top when he was recording it, which explains a lot, including the unexpectedly raffish good humour. “I think it's my most toe-tapping record so far,” he believes, and he's not wrong.
Download: Gargon Gets All Biblical; Shaquille; Gargon Knocks; Gargon's Disco Balls