John Doe / The Sadies

Country Club

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Punk rock has produced few singers with the strength and chops of X's John Doe, and the force and presence of his vocals (and songwriting) on albums like Wild Gift and Under the Big Black Sun rank with the most satisfying rock & roll of the 1980s. But on Doe's recordings with X's acoustic incarnation, the Knitters, and on his debut solo album, Meet John Doe, he showed he was every bit as gifted with country-influenced material, and for years a handful of X fans has been patiently waiting and wishing for Doe to cut a straight-ahead country album. It took a while, but Doe has finally done it, and he's done it right; Country Club is a collaboration with the great Canadian roots rock combo the Sadies in which they interpret a handful of classic country sides in a style that fuses the moody late-night atmosphere of Nashville's countrypolitan era with the straightforward guitar-based sound of vintage Bakersfield acts like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. As musicians, the Sadies are as tight and as capable as anyone walking into a recording studio these days, and their touch on these songs is all but flawless, fusing Prairie soul with a high lonesome sweetness and a subtle but expressive sense of aural adventure that turn their interpretations of "Night Life" and "Till I Get It Right" into something truly special. And Doe's vocals are a wonder; he never forces false melodrama or histrionics into these performances, but uses his rich, roomy voice to explore the spaces within these tunes with patience and a heart as big as all outdoors. Most country fans have heard "Help Me Make It Through the Night," "Detroit City," and "I Still Miss Someone" a few hundred times (at least) from dozens of artists, but Doe makes the heartache in their lyrics real and genuine, and few performers of the Nash Vegas era can match the innate understanding of classic country weepers that Doe reveals on this set. Doe and the Sadies contribute one new song each to these sessions (the band also tosses in two brief instrumentals), and "It Just Dawned on Me" and "Before I Wake" are good enough that you wouldn't guess they weren't copyrighted in the 1960s if you didn't read the credits. Plenty of rock singers have tried to honor the sound and traditions of period honky tonk music over the years, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one who sounds as ineffably right singing this stuff as John Doe, and Country Club is a casual, no-frills masterpiece.

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