Never one to be filed under “easy listening” Johnny Dowd’s latest album is a blistering power trio fuelled blast. Do The Gargon features Dowd on guitar and vocals along with Michael Stark on keyboards and Willie B. on drums and bass pedals. The twelve songs all relate to Gargon, in Dowd’s words “Who the hell is Gargon? All I can say is: look around, look in the mirror, look at me. He is the beast within who got his feelings hurt (boo hoo). The recurring theme of my new record is an incident in my (or was it Gargon’s?) past. A young boy is abandoned at a filling station in 1953. Did this happen? Is it a memory, a dream, or a lie he told himself to justify all the nonsense that followed?”
Gargon is like a rock’n’roll Zelig as he (or Dowd) propels the band through ZZ Top styled blues burners, ersatz disco, dance crazes, funk and guitar heroics. Dowd’s unique vocal delivery unites the songs sounding robotic at times as he forensically dissects moments in Gargon’s life. While this might sound, on paper at least, as if we have a po faced concept album on our hands Dowd’s customary dark humour is never far from the surface whether it be in the lyrics or the deconstruction of familiar musical types. This is probably best realised on the title song which Dowd says was inspired by The Monster Mash. Dowd kick-starts the song “Alright kids, this is Johnny Dowd , I got a brand new dance for you, it’s called Do The Gargon” and indeed he offers instructions on the dance moves in between relating a tale of an abandoned kid who delivers death to those who take him in. You could dance to this I suppose but zombie makeup would be a requisite. While several of the songs strain to maintain this level with Butterflies and Unicorns in particular collapsing into a parodic prog rock black hole Dowd hits more than he misses. Nancy Sinatra is a fuzz fuelled miniature gem where Gargon sashays down the strip in a dress and Go Go Boots borrowed from the lady while Gargon’s Disco Balls has a funky keyboard intro and a ferocious riff as Dowd again recounts the 1953 abandonment. Pretty Boy is the most direct reference to ZZ Top as Gargon hangs out with Billy while waiting for the bus and declares himself prettier than his mother over a mutant blues boogie. Girl In A Suitcase is the one song that doesn’t bludgeon the listener into submission as Dowd and band slip into freaky nightclub territory (a David Lynch type nightclub) as Gargon falls in love with disastrous results. However the highlight here has to be the eight minute opening song, Gargon Gets All Biblical. It’s as if ZZ Top were fronted by a psychotic charismatic preacher ( who sounds like Bill Burroughs) with the guitar transformed into writhing venomous snakes before morphing into a Black Sabbath leaden riff.
So not an easy listen but there are moments here that are quite thrilling and one wonders how this material will translate into the live experience. Dowd is penned in for UK dates in September so there may be an opportunity to find out.