Two seconds into the new John Doe release and I was in love.
Who am I kidding? It would be hard for me to dislike anything put out by this man. He is, after all, one-fourth of the band that showed everyone that you could make punk rock music and be able to play your instruments, and one-half of one of rock’n’roll’s coolest musical pairings, with Exene Cervenka.
You can hear X in this record, but it’s more subdued, mixed with classic country and heartfelt blues. If X was straight from the streets of L.A., this solo record is straight from old Route 66 (though the song’s called “Hwy 5,” co-written by Exene and co-sung by Neko Case). You can feel the desert and dust in the spare twang of “There’s a Black Horse” and “Repeat Performance,” but there’s still some down-and-dirty rock in the form of “Ready,” an ode to tragic artists sung with Kristen Hersh, and the aforementioned “Hwy 5.” The mature man shows on songs like “Twin Brother,” and Doe’s daughter provides backing vocals on “Mama Don’t.” Not to be outdone by the ladies, Doe’s got male compatriots Grant Lee Phillips, Smokey Hormel, and Dave Alvin doing his bidding.
This record is the work of a man who’s spent his life making music that cuts deep, and he’s not letting up here, just going at it a different way, spare tracks with beautifully sung country narratives combined with singsong blues numbers and just enough punk rock to live up to his background, and the anima to his animus played by many women rather than simply Exene. Doe’s intention with this record was to make music Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan would like, and I think he’s succeeded.
This is true American music.