by Paddy Kinsella
Like the ranchers able to tell tomorrow’s weather from the hue of the nightsky, Evil Joy shows that Aaron Dowdy knows his way around a folk song
Aaron Dowdy sings of leaving. Whether departing his ranch or the fine planet herself, the subject is his new album’s chief exploration. For a people who arrived on horseback to make a home – both from the plunder of the gold rush and the native American homeland – it’s no wonder that leaving has become central to the lore of the plains. Another essential element is the rich nature of melodrama that infuses all things country and Americana and, as a result, we’ll never know whether the album’s narrator did indeed act on their word.
For a record about leaving, Evil Joy couldn’t be more tied to the land, and that’s indicative of the internal quarrel the people of the plains fall victim to. It’s imbued with phrases worn in their sands, Night on the Lam is a reference to how bounty hunters made their keep – ‘the lam’ meaning to be on the run from the police, while ‘cannonade’ uttered on the title-track refers to a period of continuous heavy gunfire. There are names too – Jackie, Billy, Mama and baby – and a yarn on the famine season in Long Hard Days in April.
Plenty have written songs infused by a territory’s history, but while the lore may be timeless, it’s never a given that the songs will share that quality. The songs on Evil Joy, though, instantly feel like a timepiece passed down: one so precious it has its own dedicated safe place. These are songs you start to sing along with on first listen, and tales you make your own. Dowdy is clearly someone learned in the mastery of song craft. Like the ranchers able to tell tomorrow’s weather from the hue of the nightsky, Dowdy knows his way around a folk song. It’s ironic that he shares a release day with Lou Barlow, as it was another Dinosaur Jr. member, J Mascis, who brought Sibylle Baier’s now cult record to the public’s attention by passing it on to a record label, and Evil Joy is an album worthy of the same fate.
Leaving is a subject that has been well-ploughed in the arts. James Baldwin perhaps spoke with most wisdom on the topic, writing in Giovanni’s Room: ‘Having run so far, so hard, across the ocean even, only to find myself brought up short once more before the bulldog in my own backyard — the yard, in the meantime, having grown smaller and the bulldog bigger.’ The narrator’s fate on Evil Joy remains unknown, but I can only hope, for their sake, that these songs watered their roots just as they did mine. If they, or indeed you, do fall victim to the temptation of leaving, however, these songs aren’t something you can leave behind – and like that bulldog, their bark late in the night will leave you longing and eventually making for home.
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