Born and once again based in North Carolina by way of Florence (the subject of ‘Secrets On The Street’) and Maine, Dowd trades in the blues side of folk, her latest album a no holds barred search for self-identity on songs that never expand beyond trio format with variously Jason Duff on bass, Sam Frazier on electric guitar and Bert Wilson handling the drums.
“I belong to no one” she declares on album opener ‘Wiregrasser’, an eco-themed number sung in the voice of an Alabamian turpentine worker and how the decimation of the longleaf pines on both which he and the industry depend for survival, turning the mirror on herself for the title track, accompanying herself on guitar for a late night blues self-reflection inspired by her ten years as an artist’s model and the gaze and imaginations of those looking at the canvasses or photographs, finally quitting because she wasn’t prepared to pay the price “To stand and be admired while my life slips away”.
Hard-earned wisdom is passed on to a friend in The Other Side (“Be sure you always say goodbye/Hug your mama and tell her that you lover her/And tell those boys you never tried”), another song about presenting a different face to the world as she sings “you don’t know that I’m a master of disguise”.
Letting go of the painful past informs the bass, drums and guitar arranged ‘Old White House’, a powerful song with a dark undercurrent of a traumatic childhood experience (“I can’t forget the hands/The first touch of a man”) and about revisiting her younger self to let her know she wasn’t to blame, freeing her of lingering guilt and shame.
Leaving and moving on underpins ‘Goodbye Hometown’, a plaintive acoustic fingerpicked song about how you sometimes don’t know who you are until there’s distance between who you were and where you come from (“I never knew what it meant to be a Southern belle/’Till I crossed that Dixie line and said farewell”). It’s immediately followed by a return home in the even more stripped back (guitar/bass) ‘Oh 95’, about growing up and growing cold, eventually, adrift of her moorings, harking to the call of “the shores where I was born”, grateful for the refuge but needing to metaphorically sail back to “where this highway ends”.
There’s family connections behind ‘Chosin’, Duff laying down the rhythmic churning groove on a song inspired by her emotionally cold grandfather who fought in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War and how she never really understood what he had been through until talking to veteran friends at his funeral about how the scars of such experiences never heal, paralleling it with her own inner struggles.
The fallout from the jobs you do are there too on the drawled Southern folk blues ‘Desire’, a song born from a conversation with her fireman brother about the physical, mental, and emotional demands, seeing “the worst kinds of wrong” but still ready to “chase the devil into the fire” while mama’s on her knees praying God to “bring those boys home alright”.
By way of contrast on inspiration, ‘To Have A Friend (Dog’s Song)’ is sung from the perspective of a dog facing another night alone in the dark, written for an animated film, though the line “Do you ever wonder what it’s like to have a friend” and never having “a chance to show the world who you are” or “give all you had to share” touches a poignantly universal nerve.
With ‘Drag Me Down’ and the glissando fingerpicked ‘Daredevil’ both about getting past and letting go of ended relationship, the choppy rhythmed ‘Sweet Love’ (which somehow reminds me of Tim Hardin) about reclaiming life (“let go of your sorrows/Stop casting the blame… make up the tune/As you go along”), the album ends, sung unaccompanied gospel style, in the ‘Silent Pines’ on a final note of resilience and finding strength in the face of adversity and self-erected barriers with the repeated refrain “Come on children rise up/Don’t let ‘em tear you down”. Deceptively good.
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Artist’s website: www.abigaildowd.com