It's a long time a comin'. For decades, John Doe, cornerstone founding member of the seminal LA punk band X, has hinted at his country roots with songs such as "Poor Girl" and "Burning House of Love" from his days with X. Then there was his side project, The Knitters, with X band members Exene Cervenka, DJ Bonebrake and Blasters' guitarist/songwriter Dave Alvin, which blatantly exposed his roots and gift for executing country songs. His version of Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings," from The Knitters' 1985 Poor Little Critter on the Road, stops the listener cold. Doe's vocal contains depth, sincerity and understanding of the song's original, taking many X fans, at the time, by surprise. And since then there has been a contingent of fans, including myself, which has waited patiently for Doe to produce a full-length solo country record. Country Club, an excellent new collaboration with the Canadian band The Sadies, delivers upon this long overdue expectation and surpasses it.
The Sadies have garnered accolades similar to those of their Canadian brethren The Band. Formed by brothers Travis and Dallas Good on vocals and guitars, with the rhythm section of Sean Dean and Mike Belitsky, they've released strong, diverse records while providing superb accompaniments to artists such as legendary soul eccentric Andre Williams (Red Dirt), Mekons leader Jon Langford (Mayors of the Moon) and, most notably, Neko Case. Like The Band, The Sadies have exhibited a consistent, uncanny talent in playing a wide variety of Americana -- country, blues, rockabilly, folk, psychedelic, rock and garage -- without losing a sense of their own sound or identity. Here, on Country Club, they provide a perfect fit for Doe's own musical luggage.
Even though there are seemingly straight takes of Waylon Jennings' "Stop the World and Let Me Off" or the melancholic Roger Miller tune "Husbands and Wives," there are elements, such as contributions by DJ Bonebrake (vibraphones) and Eric Heywood (pedal steel) and other uses of eccentric instrumentation (such as the 12-string electric guitar), that tilt Country Club towards an alt. version of the Bakersfield sound of the 1950s and ’60s.
Ray Price's "The Night Life" and an original penned by The Sadies, "Before I Wake," are two standouts of a unique sound, blending this Bakersfield sound with spaghetti-Western-soundtrack guitars and ’60s pop. The result is haunting and epic, capturing a Roy Orbison-like sadness and darkness.
"Country Club is the result of a drunken promise or threat I made to Travis and Dallas the first night we played together in Toronto," said Doe, in a statement on the Yep Roc Web site. "These things happen all the time but it's rare that anyone remembers the morning after, let alone follows through and makes it a reality."
Country Club is a masterful collaboration and recording. It's fortunate that, occasionally, drunken promises are kept.