Friday, July 20, 2007


John Doe - "A Year In The Wilderness" Album Review

July 19, 2007

John Doe, former leader of L.A. punk icons X, has shifted gears from his punk days in favor of a long and celebrated solo career exploring rootsy country rock, a direction only hinted at in the last efforts of X . Doe's new album, A Year in the Wilderness, incorporates the best of his own history, but also enlists the help of roots rock guitarist Dave Alvin, and Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys. For that pitch-perfect charm so characteristic and unique to much of his work with X, female voices Kathleen Edwards, Jill Sobule and Aimee Mann are woven prominently into many of the songs, nicely complimenting his style. He even shares writing credit with his ex-wife and ex-X-band mate Exene Cervenka, on the bitter sweet "Darling Underdog." That's a lot of X's.

The album opens with an almost confusingly brief piano interlude before one of the albums purest and gutsiest rock numbers, "Hotel Ghost," featuring a raucous guitar solo that Chuck Berry would be proud of. But punk fans shouldn't get too used to the noise because as quickly as it came it is replaced by one of the many slower-paced, reflective (anti-)love ballads, the highlight of which is the lost-in-love "The Golden State," a gorgeous battle-of-the-sexes duet with Kathleen Edwards.

This album is about love if it's about anything, but Doe still leaves room for tales of murder like "The Meanest Man in the World," a haunting song reminiscent of Johnny Cash. John Doe seems as comfortable seeping into your consciousness as he is breaking through its doors, a dynamic quality that Doe abundantly shows through the album's middle stretch. "There's A Hole" and "Lean Out Yr Window" rip through his brooding Nebraskan landscape like a truck convoy, full of piano and guitar driven sing-along choruses, and even some hand-clapping for good measure, before he returns us to the plaintive bite of his dusty, hotel-dwelling swagger.

The majority of the album is a twangy, slide-guitar-laden meditative
collection set at the pace of a man in no hurry to get somewhere fast, likely because he's already been there. A Year in the Wilderness was recorded in less than one month, but the decades of John Doe's experience come through; it sounds weathered and worn, gritty, mature, soulful and contemplative in its content and heart, with a fantastic production to balance. John Doe may be a punk icon, but he's found his soul with the Americana roots sound, and only gets better with age.

-Jordan Clifford

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