JOHN DOE -- A YEAR IN THE WILDERNESS
If he'd never played a single note after the initial dissolution of X, John Doe could have spent the rest of his life sitting on a fire escape getting fat on beer and Tootsie Rolls and his legend would have been secure. Of course, he chose the more interesting path of starting an acting career and crafting a solo catalog that further developed the influential acreage he'd staked out at the crossroads of Punk and Americana.
Two years ago, Doe released Forever Hasn't Happened Yet
, perhaps his most accomplished attempt yet at Punk slapping his Roots Country Blues, and his latest, A Year in the Wilderness
, follows that love-loss-and-salvation blueprint in a slightly more visceral and frenetic musical fashion. The gentle 20-second B3-and-piano opening of "The Wilderness" gives no indication of the blistering soul shout of "Hotel Ghost" that lurks just beyond it, although it tees up nicely the rootsy hymnal of "Darling Underdog," co-written by Doe and ex-wife Exene Cervenka and featuring some of Doe's most intensely autobiographical lyrics to date ("When I thought I could fly/You became the sky"). Even when he pursues a strictly acoustic direction, as on "A Little More Time," Doe and co-producer Dave Way accessorize the songs with subtle undercurrents that make the album breathe with an unsteady power, but when he turns it loose, as on "Unforgiven" and "There's a Hole," he does it with the wild abandon of The Replacements tributing Crazy Horse. And with the album's first single, "The Golden State," Doe not only nails the best scuffed love song he's ever committed to tape ("You are the lump in my throat/I am the aching in your heart") but he finds in Kathleen Edwards his most gifted and equal duet partner since he parted ways with Cervenka. A Year in the Wilderness
is not merely John Doe's personal best; it ranks among the best that 2007 has produced to date. (BB) Grade: A