John Doe

Dim Stars, Bright Sky (Artist Direct)

This is how www.allmusic.com defines John Doe--"Reflective, Humorous, Earthy, Literate, Earnest, Cathartic"--and, damn it, that pretty much pegs the ex-X-man (and every other denim-and-flannel fellow swinging an acoustic guitar, granted). It fits especially well, though, as he ditches Exene (long a "special guest," this time without an invite) and beckons a brand-new batch of pals, among them Aimee Mann and Rhett Miller and Jakob Dylan and Juliana Hatfield, to sing along (ah, just barely) to his 10 tunes about how you can't trust no one and no thing, not even rare glimpses of True Love caught in the rearview mirror. At the end of the day, Doe seems to offer, all you got is yourself, your bottle, your car and whatever you can carry in the trunk--wise and elegiac words, if not exactly the most uplifting sentiment on this godforsaken earth.

This isn't quite the all-acoustic disc, as promised, and thank God; Doe has too often confused "rustic" with "rusty." The new disc is wide-open--like a dirt road drifting off into the endless horizon, like a 24-hour truck-stop diner, like a chest on an operating table. And he's better for it: Not since See How We Arehave you wanted to see how he was. This is John Doe's Joe Henry Move, complete with Madonna's bro-in-law producing, and DoeJoe makes for a nifty amalgam: Doe provides the workingman's black-and-blue-collar poetry ("Sunlight through your window/Moonlight on the floor/Quiet violence from the room next door/In a suit and tie, suitcase by your side/Waitin' for the mailman to save you one more time"), while Henry and Beck's band, more or less, layer on the effects (toy piano, harmonium, etc.), rendering it all so wonderfully, miserably affecting.

 
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