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Wedding-Day Blues? Make It Rock!

July 19, 2007 By:
M.J. Fine, JE Feature
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John Doe never, ever, goes out of style.
Every summer, our thoughts turn to weddings. One of my co-workers is gleefully counting down the days until he's a married man, so I've got about two more weeks of hearing about cake tastings, flower arrangements and honeymoon plans.

In honor of this summer's brides and grooms, I've categorized July's shows according to the wedding tradition.

· Something old. John Doe never goes away, and he never goes out of style. The singer/guitarist co-founded the legendary Los Angeles punk group X 30 years ago, and he still tours with them and the Knitters, their rockabilly off-shoot.

But he's also been a reliable solo artist; his latest effort, "A Year in the Wilderness," is his seventh in 17 years. After a brief introductory instrumental, Doe kickstarts the disc with "Hotel Ghost," a rollicking country-rock piano-pounder about a spooky rendezvous. It's gutsy to put the hottest track right up front, but Doe packs enough variety into 36 minutes to keep things from cooling off.

Over the years, Doe has duetted with plenty of fiery women; here, he hooks up with three worthy partners: Kathleen Edwards, Aimee Mann and Jill Sobule. Edwards gets a triple scoop, and the songs suit her bittersweet twang. "Lean Out Yr Window" is a bruiser and "A Little More Time" is a balm, but "The Golden State" is both, a kiss and a kiss off, and the album's second standout.

When Doe sings alone, his best man is Greg Leisz. The killer pedal steel player ties the final tracks together with the loneliest instrument in the world, and the album's all the richer for his company.

John Doe returns to Philadelphia's World Cafe Live on Wednesday, July 25.

· Something new. In Flight Radio have been together just a few years, but they know what they want and they go for it. Led by singer/guitarist Peira Moinester, the Brooklyn band combines solid folk and pop influences with pretty, low-key rock dynamics.

Their self-titled debut is vulnerable and determined, filled with songs about the imbalance of love. In songs like "Come Back and Stay" and "Pieces," Peira longs for more from a partner. She knows enough not to make outrageous demands, but speaks plainly of her disappointment. Who could resist her buttery voice?

Bassist Devin Krug sings lead on two tracks, and while he sounds just as plaintive, there's a defensiveness to his lyrics. "Something" meditates on the push and pull of attraction; "Quietly" locates the rancor in a relationship that's ending, but the underlying affection is evident in its promises that both parties will find strength in parting.

Best of all is "The Stand," which freezes the moment when a woman realizes that the person who knows her best is going to leave her. Melancholy guitars buffer Peira's soaring voice as she grapples with the truth: Separation is always just a matter of time.

· Something borrowed. Patti Smith is one of rock's true originals. Since the mid-'70s, she's merged poetry with garage rock -- plus the occasional squalling clarinet -- to prove that punks can care about the world as much as hippies can.

But even iconoclasts have icons, and Smith's always given credit to Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison for firing her imagination. On her latest album, "Twelve," Smith reinterprets songs by her predecessors and peers.

Each of the disc's dozen songs is a classic in its own right, but in Smith's context, they gather strength as a statement about a world that's always quicker to fight than to bond over common ground.

She doesn't really make any of them her own, but she takes good care of the things she borrows.

The Stones' "Gimme Shelter" is a potent anti-war anthem, with Smith's hearty wails fueled by Tom Verlaine's angry slide guitar and Lenny Kaye's insistent acoustic. Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes contributes some ticklish dulcimer to "Boy in the Bubble," and it sparkles like stars in a black sky or kindness in desperate times.

Smith has said she doesn't particularly like Paul Simon's oeuvre, but she treats this one song with as much respect as she pays to Dylan's "Changing of the Guards."

Though Smith's drawn to political texts, "Twelve" is more spiritual than strident. Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" is appro' "Soul Kitchen" bluesy and mystical. Most transfixing is "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which turns Nirvana's existential howl into a porch stomp with dueling banjos, a keening fiddle and a rousing poetic interjection of Smith's own design.

The biggest surprise, however, is Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise," which has a lovely urgency, ending "Twelve" on a hopeful note. Our society may be in big trouble, but if you believe that some things have been worse and some things will get better, that's enough to keep you going.

For extra credit, hunt down Smith's non-album 7-inch single "Perfect Day," especially for the B-side, "Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect." On the Decemberists' original, singer Colin Meloy somehow sounds both harsh and fey, but in Smith's hands, the song is gentle, catchy and, yes, dreamy.

In any case, make time for Smith and her band at Philadelphia's Trocadero on July 31.

· Something blue. If all you know of the White Stripes is their red, white and black color scheme, you're missing out on some of the most imaginative neo-blues songs. Singer/guitar hero Jack White's reverence for the tradition is obvious, but he comes up with scenarios all his own.

Like all good blues, the duo's new "Icky Thump" is full of bad women and broken stuff. In "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues," White's bewildered by redheaded women and contemplating death and detritus; by "Catch Hell Blues," he's back to strutting around like the fattest rooster in the yard.


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