Easy as ‘Pie’: Ithaca icon Johnny Dowd marks the release of his latest album
Ithaca songwriter Johnny Dowd will celebrate his latest album, “Homemade Pie,” with an April Fool’s CD release party and art show on Friday night at The Downstairs.
Dowd’s trio, which also includes Michael Edmondson and Jennifer Edmonson (they’re married; she’s Johnny’s sister), will be joined by special guest Kim Sherwood-Caso, a former bandmate who contributes to the new album.
The event is part of Downtown Ithaca’s First Friday Gallery Night, which is especially appropriate: the title and art for the new album actually preceded the music.
“I came up with the title even before I started writing the songs,” Dowd said in a recent interview at The Shop, the studio in Willseyville where he recorded the record. “I knew I want to do a kind of a backwards-looking record. That phrase just came to my mind. And I learned how to sort of draw a pie from one of those ‘How to Draw for Dummies’ lessons on YouTube. So ‘Homemade Pie’ – now I’ve got a pie. I've got the artwork done, now I just got to write some songs and make a record.”
Long known for a constantly shifting approach to his music, Dowd decided to get back to the basics on the new album.
“I'm always trying for every record to do something new, and I thought something that I haven't done in 10 years is just sit down with the acoustic guitar and write a tune,” so I did that,” he said. “I just want to do a sort of traditional rock and roll album, with Sixties influences – nothing too weird, everything obvious.”
Longtime sidekick Michael Edmondson contributed electric guitar and keyboards to the new record, and Sherwood-Caso, a former bandmate, provided vocals. After using drum machines on his recent albums, Dowd enlisted another former bandmate, Brian “Willie B” Wilson, to lay down live drums to the final tracks.
“It turned out to be accidentally kind of a reunion record,” Dowd noted.
Dowd wrote the 13 new songs in the midst of the pandemic, and with an album title like “Homemade Pie,” it’s no surprise that he describes the theme of the album as “nostalgia.”
“All the beats are drum beats that I grew up with, some shuffles and some 6/8 blues things,” he said. “There was so much crazy stuff with the drum machines that it was a relief to hear a drumbeat where I actually know where the one is. Just play it, and make it feel good.”
The album has already garnered positive reviews.
For UK music magazine Louder Than War, Andy Brown wrote: “Dowd is the self-styled ultra-scary troubadour with a glint in his eye. He’s one of those artists that seems to fly under the radar yet those lucky enough to stumble across his albums become evangelical exponents of his terrifically twisted take on rock ‘n’ roll. ‘Homemade Pie’ is the latest album in a long line of hidden gems from the ever-prolific, Americana outlaw.”
And Sylvie Simmons wrote in Mojo magazine: “Dowd’s new album (homemade right down to the cover art) has everything a fan could want. Raw and direct…there’s a slew of slow, dark, stalking ballads (‘’Call Me the Wind) and creepy zombie blues (‘Shack’). The title track, with its growly synth, thumping drum, and Dowd’s twisted vocal – strangely sugared by backing singer Kim Sherwood-Caso – is the perfect all-American murder song…”
To further celebrate the new album, on April 1 Dowd will release another new single on his Bandcamp page, the fourth in a series dating back to December 2021. (It’s one of his trademark spoken-word pieces that has made regular appearances during his live shows.)
“I just put up oddball things, like stuff I do on a drum machine or maybe a weird live recording,” he said. “It’s just lo-fi stuff that I really wouldn't want to put on a record or anything. But if you're interested in me, you would find it interesting”
He’s also posting the latest in a series of music videos that accompany the new album, a work by Dutch artist Truus de Groot for the song “Shack.”
And he just created a bunch of free April Fool’s themed pieces that are available as free downloads on his website.
Dowd turned 74 on March 29, an occasion he views with equanimity.
“Birthdays are for young people – like, turning 16 or something, that's a cause for candles and cake,” he said. “But when you’re 74, a birthday is just another step on the road towards death. So I don’t really see the need to celebrate that.
"I accept it," he continued with a laugh. "But I'm not lighting candles about it.”
If You Go
Who: Johnny Dowd
What: ‘Homemade Pie’ album release and art gallery show
When: 7 p.m. Friday, April 1
Where: The Downstairs, 121 W. State/MLK Jr. St., Ithaca
Cost: small cover charge