We don’t normally review Christmas music here at Blabber’n’Smoke. Aside from the fact that most of it is crap, most of it is also unbearably wholesome and cheerful and that’s something we really can’t tolerate. Now, Johnny Dowd, one of our favourite musical mavericks, is not someone you’d normally expect to be vying for airtime with Mariah Carey, Slade and Bing Crosby but, it turns out he has a small stash of Christmas songs scattered throughout his back catalogue and he gathers them together here along with a new recording of Silent Night.
There is of course, a good enough pile of decent Christmas songs, most of them melancholic or downright depressing, along with a fair few which are just so far enough from the formula to actually entice you in. Dowd’s festive five are probably in the latter category.
There are two traditional Christmas songs. Jingle Bells (which first appeared on The Pawnbroker’s Wife) comes across as if Funkadelic were given a spectacularly potent dose of acid and let loose in Santa’s grotto. While Silent Night has the pathos one associates with the recording of the homeless man repeating Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet in Gavin Bryars’ work of the same name, there also seems to be a sardonic nod to Simon & Garfunkel’s recording of the song which included a newsreader’s litany of disturbing news stories. Here, Dowd has snippets of Spanish speech included as the song slowly limps into sight. The song of course, limps along splendidly throughout while Dowd then seems to take a leaf from Phil Spector as he wishes the listener a Happy Christmas (somewhat woefully) at the end.
Separate Beds is the most conventional song here as Dowd and Kim Sherwood-Caso trade vocals on this downbeat country festive song of a couple breaking up. There’s a hint of The Handsome Family in the delivery and the black humour. In contrast, Death Comes Knocking is a macabre mutant nightmare carnival song which wheezes and puffs in a Tom Wait fashion while Christmas Is Just Another Day is another dose of off kilter melody. Ostensibly, it has Dowd’s protagonist missing his late mother on Christmas day but there are hints (kinfolk come to visit me on Christmas, they come but cannot stay) that tempt one to consider that this forlorn son is locked up after topping his dear departed mother. Whatever, it’s deliciously dark as is the whole EP. You won’t be hearing this one wafting down supermarket aisles.