John Doe

Freedom Is...

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Arriving on the heels of 1998's EP for Kill Rock Stars indie, John Doe's third full album for his third label, this time on spinART, finds him sounding more natural and comfortable than in past, post-X, efforts. He's left the spunky, poetic crash and burn of his old band and the country-tinged rock of his previous solo works behind, opting instead for a homey singer/songwriter approach, which fits his leathery vocals and unusual song structures just fine. Excene Cervanka, his ex-wife and vocal foil in X, makes a brief appearance, but Doe's new songs don't sound much like the hyperactive tunes of his Hollywood punk days. On sublime, world-weary, predominantly acoustic songs like "No One Cares," "A Picture of This," and "Beat Up World," Doe seems relaxed and under no pressure to push these low-key tunes in any particular direction. Only the insistent "Smile and Wave" and the angry, self-explanatory "Too Many Goddamn Bands" up the volume and intensity to X levels. Doe's voice has mellowed, but not softened, which works well with twisting, often off-beat lyrics like "somebody's mumbling in someone else's dream." The album unwinds slowly and gradually, without catchy choruses, instantly memorable hooks, or slick production, making it more difficult to quickly absorb. But after a few spins, Doe's meandering tunes find a focus as they wrap around the listener like a favorite pair of worn jeans. It's still not his most impressive set of songs, and nothing jumps out with the nervy impetuousness of his work with X, but after some disappointing tries, Freedom Is... finally demonstrates that John Doe's best years might still be ahead of him.

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