To me, John Doe is the sound of America. While many opt to play patriotic songs or “Sweet Home Alabama” on the day our nation celebrates its Independence, I always pop in X’s Los Angeles, a classic slice of punk rock Americana that some still consider a “cult” album. There are still people out there who don’t know who X is, and it saddens me. Being both an American and a Californian, I grew up with Doe’s gritty tales of Sunset Strip debauchery and his band’s fiery punk rock assault. And though X still plays the occasional show `round these parts, Doe has been focusing his songwriting efforts on his solo recordings, the most recent of which is Forever Hasn’t Happened Yet, a great addition to the Californian’s three-decade spanning discography.
Just over a half-hour in length, Forever continues with the punk rock energy of Doe’s recordings of old. But this time around, he’s playing a more mature brand of folk-rock, the likes of which onetime X member, Dave Alvin (who makes several appearances here, as well as X drummer DJ Bonebrake), has in his band The Blasters. The songs may not be as fast or as loud, but they’re no less energetic, and they show Doe’s strengths as a solo performer, as well as one-quarter of a legendary band.
“The Losing Kind” is a dark and bluesy country-rock number that opens the album with a slower pace, but the same intensity that made X’s albums so invigorating. Doe is joined by Alvin and Grant Lee Phillips on this track as well as on the next one, “Heartless.” “Mama Don’t” is a more radio-friendly number that finds Doe’s teenage daughter, Veronica Jane, playing the part of Exene Cervenka. And a number of other guest vocalists appear as well, like Neko Case, Cindy Lee Berryhill and Kristin Hersh. But nowhere does the classic X magic surface as well as it does on “Hwy 5,” Doe’s collaboration with Case. The song finds the two crooning “take me away” over some fiery slide-work and honky-tonk piano. It may be a little bit slowed-down, but it’s no less punk rock than “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene” was.
The latter half of the album is somewhat more hushed. Doe plays it solo on “Worried Brow,” a song that brings to mind early Billy Bragg. And “Your Parade” is a sad ballad that finds the singer moaning “sad about you” during the bluesy chorus. But the dark country of “There’s a Black Horse” finds the singer sounding more like one of his fallen heroes, Johnny Cash. Doe sings “I feel like I could live forever/but forever hasn’t happened yet,” lending the song a the sort of open-endedness that comes with outlaw country, while also lending the album its name.
John Doe is a name that, to some, has already gone down in history as one of the greatest troubadours of our time. On Forever Hasn’t Happened Yet, Doe only further solidifies his greatness as an artist. Whether shouting in X or crooning soulful folk-rock songs on his own, he’s an incredible voice in rock music and one of the few true artists that puts heart behind everything he does.
X – Under the Big Black Sun
Johnny Cash – American III: Solitary Man
The Old `97s – Fight Songs
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.