John Doe

The Westerner – 2016 (Cool Rock)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by John Doe

Throughout his career, John Doe's maintained a dour disposition, indicative of the fact that he's gone from a punk provocateur with his band X to a solo route as a journeyman rocker. With "The Westerner," Doe manages to mix it up, turning that gloomy perspective towards songs that allow him to both rock out and cast his sights on innuendo and observation in equal measure. The stealth-like stare that accompanies "Get On Board" is an ideal example; a rallying cry of sorts, it's underscored by a persistent beat that's as much about the blues as it is about the bombast. The kinetic frenzy of "My Darling, Blue Skies" and "Drink Of Water" convey much the same feel, but it's his union with Debbie Harry on the solemn and seductive "Go Baby Go" that appears to bring it all back him.

Mostly, Doe stays true to his template, focusing on some low-cast angst and strum that finds him midway between some dusty south of the border imagery and a sound befitting Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska" or, in the case of "Sweet Reward," a detached take on "Blood on the Tracks." Either way, there's a certain amount of desolation here to be found, a weary downturned perspective befitting one who's resigned himself to despair. "Everybody needs a little help," he sings on "A Little Help," a duet with Chan Marshall. "Not all the time or everyday, Just need a little help today."

So true. We've all been there. But in Doe's case, those somber sentiments seem to be his constant companion. Still, it's apparent he's able to tough it out, making music that's tattered, but tenacious as well. With "The Westerner," Doe's reached another milestone, a rugged, reliable individual who reflects the sturdy independence that characterizes the west at its best.