John Doe – The Westerner

(And I thought the “train” theme was dead and gone… Jasmine)

Ever since he broke through to nationwide recognition with X‘s outstanding 1980 debut, Los Angeles, John Doe has been one of rock’s greatest triple threats. Doe is a brilliant singer with a gift for writing great melodies, and he’s an intelligent, evocative lyricist. Nearly all of Doe‘s albums find him displaying these talents in equal measure, but 2016’s The Westerner is an uncommonly strong set of songs that that ranks with his finest work. Doe has rarely meshed the depth of his material with the power of his performances as well as he does here. While it isn’t a thematically linked concept album, The Westerner‘s ten songs are all rooted in the American West, and there’s a strength and resonant consistency to their sound and feel. Doe was a poet before he became a lyricist, and there’s a poetic sensibility to the best tracks on The Westerner that sets them apart from much of his catalog. (“Sweet Reward,” “Sunlight,” and “The Other Shoe” are particularly effective in their impressionistic wordplay.) Doe co-produced The Westerner with Dave Way and Howe Gelb, and Gelb‘s influence is especially strongly felt on these sessions. The results don’t particularly resemble Gelb‘s work with Giant Sand, but the same dusty mood and sunburnt tone hovers over this music, and it suits the tunes perfectly. And Doe brings a welcome compassion and insight to these stories of people struggling to make sense of their lives under the unrelenting glare of the sun and sand. Doe has always been one of rock’s better storytellers, but The Westerner has a degree of heart, soul, and wisdom uncommon even for his work. Muscular but graceful, The Westerner is as effective as anything Doe has released in his solo career. It confirms that at the age of 63, he hasn’t run out of ideas and is not afraid to challenge himself.

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