Rev Neil Down

Rev had grown up in Anacortes, Washington, the son of a crane operator and a classical pianist. At age 13, Rev had bought himself a cheap guitar with the strings half an inch off the frets; by the time he’d conquered it, he could play any other guitar with ease. His early musical education came from his older sister’s record collection: Beatles, Stones, Stax, Creedence, Al Green.

“When I was a kid of 17,” Rev remembers, “I saw Albert Collins play a show at a local Catholic school in Seattle where I was living then. He really moved me; he was hitting on some cylinders in the sonic engine that I didn’t even know existed. Afterward I went to an all night coffee shop out on Highway 99, and Albert Collins himself came in and sat down next to me. I said, ‘Mr. Collins, I saw you tonight and I still can’t find my socks ‘cause you blew them off.’ That was the beginning of a pretty cool relationship; we kept in touch for years, and he’d actually sneak me into places I was too young to get into.”

After high school and a brief fling at junior college, Rev pursued music full-time. He became the leader of a garage-rock band called Universal Jones; he pitched songs in L.A.; he made a 1998 album, “American Friends,” with Jerry Scheff, who had played with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and the Doors; he jammed with Jamie Oldaker and Dick Sims at Leon Russell’s church in Tulsa. It was all good schooling, but he never seemed able to break through to the next level. When he moved to Skagway, it felt so welcoming after L.A. that he decided to stay for a while.

“I played here for years with my own band," Rev says. “Alaska has a lot of great players, perhaps because there’s so much time to woodshed in the winter.

Rev Neil Down


When a Wrong Turns Right

Rev Neil Down

Praise for "When a Wrong Turns Right is gruff, big, smooth and emotive at a turn..." author: Rick Skidmore

Some day, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Nick Cave may stroll into Sun Records and cut an intimate session to be dubbed The Next Million Dollar Quartet. While this dream is implausible, Rev. Neil Down's incredible barroom testament gives hope to the possibility.

When a Wrong Turns Right is gruff, big, smooth and emotive at a turn and will be passed around to thirsty souls like a community whiskey bottle behind a skid-row pawnshop. Conceived in Down's Unabomber-styled shack in Alaska and recorded in Ireland, the album contains surprisingly accessible tunes. The good Reverend knows the secrets of evangelists like the overlooked Preacher Jack: Convict, then offer redemption. Sordid tales such as "Whippin' Boy" and "Sometimes Paradise" are of the leaving and adulterous sort. Down implicates himself with lines like "He said I just met you/But you seem preoccupied/It's as if you was running from some kind of trouble/Or somebody else's bride." When beauty rears its ugly head on the altar call "She's Talking to You," Down's sentiment is understated, not sappy. The simple moment beats out any gushing love-song idealism with the couplet "When you said I was your best friend/The tide rose to my eyes." Once absolved, the Rev tends to the flock in "The Big Brother," attempting to keep the wolves away from a teasing teen sibling: "You'd better be a good sister/Or I could end up black and blue/I might lose a chiclet or two." Just as clever as the lyrics are the time changes in "She Lets Me Do" which borders on prog-rock before shuffling back home to its folk beginnings.

The natural warmth of Down's rough voice is comforting and unexpectedly complemented by the innocence of Lahna Deering's heavenly hosting, while sorrowful pedal steel and desperate electric blues drive the soul-searching hymns "Part of Your Heart" and "Saint Jack's Cadillac." Keyboardist James Delaney has Jimmy Swaggart on one shoulder and his cousin Jerry Lee on the other as gospel organ and righteous piano give way to boogie-woogie backsliding. Prolific Irish guitarist Henry McCullough plays -- or downplays -- with more subtlety than his extensive background would imply. McCullough's biography is almost a credibility risk because of the high-profile performers with whom he's been associated, from Pink Floyd to Paul McCartney. The guitar leads fit the songs tastefully without any showboating. His country breakdowns on "Xalapa Linda" are classic Rick Nelson stuff, applied only where needed, and the smart conservation of notes leaves a desire for more.

Overall, the arrangements and the vocal phrasings on Down's latest are spacious, like classic Van Morrison, with overlapping instrumentation and rich sound separation. Like a drunk in a midnight choir, When a Wrong Turns Right makes a fellow want to belly up to the altar and receive the Alcoholy Spirit. | originally published: December 4, 2003

Damn! author: Heather Lovelorn - Music Prospectors LLC

I have been to the mountaintop! Rev Down, Lahna Deering and Henry McCullough and Company took me there. This CD is incredible. A masterwork for sure. It's got it all. Tension -release - incredible musicianship. This is some of the best work any of these folks have done and that's saying a whole lot - especially as it applies to Henry McCullough - who has backed McCartney, Cocker and other legends of Rock and Roll.

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American Friend

Rev Neil Down

Praise for "American Friend" author: David Whited

If Jim Morrison and Captain Beefheart could've had a baby and moved into a Nashville trailer park to raise it, It might've grown up to be the Mighty Rev Neil Down.

This fine release didn't come from Nashville though. This was recorded, engineered, and mastered in the Yukon Territory. Who would've thought we'd have an emerging music scene in the up there? Well, maybe we don't, but I really do hope that there's more like the Rev Down. Even if there's not, he probably would qualify as a one-man scene.

Down's influences appear to include Captain Beefheart on a couple of levels, Jim Morrison on a couple more, and maybe even a helping of Tom Waits on some others. Mix all these influences with a broad mix of musical styles in both vocals and instrumentation, and you end up with something that sounds like it's been around forever, yet it's distinctly different from anything I've yet heard.

Standout cuts include "Finish Your Dreams," "American Friend," and the unforgettable "The Trench," with lyrics like "Horseshit and gun smoke, I've seen my share. Up to my neck, concrete in my hair. I made it through that gauntlet, never got me no scratch. When it come to love, I was just no match." Who out there could not relate to this?

"Down is an engaging singer and taut guitarist..." author: Bob Cianci

Thank God for the eccentric musical individualists... like Rev. Neil Down, a singer/songwriter/guitarist who calls Skagway, Alaska home. Down's slightly left-of-center music crackles with excitement, and his lyrics bristle with raucous, offbeat humor, irony and occasional tenderness, straddling stylistic fences between minimal blues, folk, rock and country. One will hear the influence of artists like Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins and alt country kingpin Steve Earle. Down is an engaging singer and taut guitarist with a discernible streak of non-conformist edginess. Bass guitarist Jerry Scheff, a longtime studio veteran, who counts Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Elvis Costello and The Association among his past clients, plays throughout, and provides a very steady bottom end.............

"Aided by former Elvis (both Presley and Costello)..." author: Shinola

Alaska's Rev. Neil Down makes the kind of slightly eccentric music that can only come from isolation. With nothing around to influence him but his own memories, Down creates his own kind of roots rock. It has echoes of the blues, country and rockabilly, but only echoes—the guitarist/songwriter/singer definitely follows his own muse. "I can still recall yet a harder time/When I was stayin' with a friend of a friend of mine/Crashin' underneath the Hollywood sign/Wakin' up flea-bitten with a twisted spine/The queen was freebasin' in Room 436/This joker down the hall he was cookin' up a fix/Gun shots goin' off in the flat below/But baby that day was nothin'/No, that day was slow" he hollers in the title track. He seems hellbent on crossing Tom Waits with Willie Dixon and Johnny Cash, and for the most part he succeeds. He's a solid, tasteful guitarist, and while his voice sometimes threatens to careen off its tracks like a runaway train, for the most part he knows exactly how to use his flawed larynx. Aided by former Elvis (both Presley and Costello) bassist Jerry Scheff, as well as local musicians (yes, apparently Alaska has some), Down consecrates the record with a powerful dose of roadhouse rock 'n' roll. Expect a laying on of hands any minute.

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