CD Review: John Doe "Keeper"
All Access Review: C
Old punks like John Doe aren’t exactly expected to be little rays of sunshine and happiness. Doe’s last four records saw the grizzled veteran probing the darker aspects of human behavior with the eye of a black-hearted cynic. And as one of the driving forces behind X, those feverish, Americana-loving punk desperadoes that reigned as L.A. underground royalty in the late 1980s, Doe shone a flashlight on the corrosive desperation and fear bubbling up under the fragile façade of Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” in raw, fierce, tension-filled songs like “Johny Hit and Run Paulene” and “The Phone’s Off The Hook, But You’re Not.”
With Keeper, his latest solo outing, Doe seems to have found the joy he’s been missing for so long, and it doesn’t take long for him to express it. Deeply romantic and full of heart, the guileless “Don’t Forget How Much I Love You,” the upbeat opener to Keeper, is awash in golden slide guitar and jumping rhythms. It drives headlong into the rolling, energetic romp “Never Enough” and its searing indictment of American consumerism, before Keeper settles down with the acoustic “Little Tiger,” a tender, lovely coming-of-age sketch that pines for the innocence of childhood.
Somewhat uneven and not quite as eloquent or edgy as A Year in the Wilderness, Doe’s critically acclaimed 2007 effort, Keeper really swings when Doe and company pound the keys and let it rip on the rollicking honky-tonk juke joint “Walking out the Door” and “Jump Into My Arms,” a hot nugget of rockabilly fervor that would get Jerry Lee Lewis all worked up. However, the smoky “Moonbeam,” immersed in late-night bluesy atmospherics, sucks the life out of Keeper with its ponderous clumsiness and lack of sexual heat, as does the long, drawn-out “Lucky Penny,” which has all the action and suspense of a blinking traffic light. “Sweetheart” is a country-tinged lightning bug of a song, with a light glow and porch-swing ease, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.
All three are pretty and lyrically clever in spots, but what Keeper, as a whole, does is it fails to raise the stakes for Doe. He’s become too comfortable in that role of a smiling, mature country troubadour with the troubled punk past. And some of his songs seem as worn and tired as a middle-aged waitress working in a greasy-spoon diner.
- Peter Lindblad