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With A Year In The Wilderness, X-man John Doe proves that he hasn't outstayed his welcome.

Music Review: John Doe – A Year In The Wilderness

Let's be frank. Some rockers definitely outstay their welcome, coasting on the hits and sounds they established when they were once young and pertinent, and playing the same old crap in perpetuity.

Can't say I really blame 'em. If I had a catalog of proven crowd pleasers, I'd probably overplay it too. But it can definitely be a drag for listeners wondering what an old favorite might be up to these days. Far better, think I, for a musician to risk falling on his/her face than to keep cranking out the oldies to increasingly diminishing returns.

Which is one reason I remain engrossed by the career of a guy like David Johansen. Say what you will about some of the songs and personas he has adopted over the years (and yes, I know there are folks out there who loath his Buster Poindexter character). But the man is not afraid to go where his restless muse takes him.

Then there's John Doe. In a lot of ways, you could say that the former frontman for seminal L.A. punkers X has followed a career path similar to David Jo's. Doe has spent time between recording gigs doing the acting thing — yet, in a genre-shifting solo career, he still manages to work his vocal instrument effectively. Still, I don't see the guy doing anything as willfully silly as Johansen's "HotHotHot."

Happily though, in the quarter century(!) since X's Los Angeles, Doe hasn't pissed away his career in the name of punk nostalgia.

John D.'s newest solo outing, A Year in the Wilderness (Yep Roc), is of a piece with his last, Forever Hasn't Happened Yet. A blend of hard-lived blues-driven roots rock and country folk, it surrounds a singer/songwriter vibe, with like-minded guest stars like Dave Alvin and Kathleen Edwards to generally good effect. Especially when Doe calls on 'em to blow the roof off the studio.

Doe gets into Stonesy blooz territory on "There's A Hole." From there, he moves on to sloppin' up the place a lá the Replacements in "Lean Out Yr Window," which features nice bellowing back-up from Miz Edwards.  With his good bud Dave Alvin, he goes ominously punkabilly in "Hotel Ghost." This track also features a cool Doe lyrical moment worth holding up to the light: ("She crawls under my covers to warm her bones on my side").

Then, on the swell Aimee Mann guest duet "Unforgiven," Doe layers down some ringin' post-punk guitar. Throughout this fine CD, Doe demonstrates repeatedly that you don't necessarily need punk speed to capture the howl of the hungry wolf.

Where Wilderness occasionally flags, is in those slower countrified tracks where Doe's lyrical concerns override his tunefulness, such as "The Bridge" and "The Meanest Man in the World." Though at least twice – on the sweetly poppy "A Little More Time" and the organ-based country blues "Big Moon" – Doe's songwriter smarts still manage to prevail. 

On the final cut, "Grain of Salt," Doe even pulls off one of the oldest tricks in the album rock songbook – the acoustic track that builds to a loud and stately guitar/piano wind-up – without sounding corny.

With this album, John Doe proves that he hasn't outstayed his welcome.

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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