Spare, melodic, and episodic, Abigail Dowd’s second studio album, Not What I Seem, is a turbulent travelogue through the people, places, and personas that define her past. The guitar-driven introspective folk of the 1970s is a touchstone, but so are blues and roots rock ’n’ roll. Dowd’s robust strumming and sinewy cross-picking propel most of these originals, anchored by husband Jason Duff’s swooping bass and occasionally Bert Wilson’s succinct and punchy drums.
On the title track, Dowd’s remembrance of her time as an artist’s model, she rejects being a mere object to behold, as her spiralling strumming dissolves like an unquiet dream. On “Old White House,” Dowd’s dry alto free-falls through cloudbursts of wiry picking as she encourages her childhood self to push past the trauma of abuse. An emotionally distant, PTSD-ravaged grandfather is the subject of “Chosin,” a Celtic-tinged ramble with a sting like a scorpion’s tail. Dowd examines the harrowing challenges of her firefighter brother’s job on “Desire,” a propulsive folk rocker with a ringing whiplash riff.
The haunted blues “Wiregrasser” and the a cappella shanty “Silent Pines” bookend this collection with snapshots of an eerie landscape: Alabama’s longleaf pine forests, stripped bare and plundered by the turpentine industry. Here, Dowd steps outside her own experiences to inhabit characters, and catpults past the personal to the universal. It reinforces her message that our stories and memories may inform us, but they are not who we are.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.