John Doe’s the Right Man at the Right Time
Punk rock sniffed around country music right from the start, whether finding fellow travelers in the outlaw stance of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard or Waylon Jennings — or taking the piss out of spangles and Nudie suits. But, as Country Club, the new record by John Doe and The Sadies demonstrates, it took a while for the 70s generation to truly inhabit the most expressive country music.
Case in point: “’Til I Get It Right.” Country ballads are experience songs, and they wear irony like a two-dollar toupee. John Doe takes an early 70s hit by Tammy Wynette (written by Red Lane and Larry Henley) and wrings out of it the weary feeling of no romantic option left, except to just keep on looking for love. It’s not a song for the young and callow, and he takes it slow without being ponderous or bathetic. X drummer D.J. Bonebrake adds a light touch on vibes, a crisp counterpoint to the long, aching lines of Eric Heywood’s pedal steel. The Sadies just may be this generation’s A Team, backing some of the artists exploring country’s heart without losing their heads: Doe, Neko Case, Jon Langford. Their sure-footed feel and John Doe’s lived-in vocals find their own space in the familiar songs in the set, and the originals from Doe (and his X songwriting partner Exene Cervenka) and the Sadies stand should-to-shoulder with the classics.
Here, for comparison’s sake, is Tammy’s version:
Tammy Wynette: “‘Til I Get It Right”
Co-writer Larry Henley may not be familiar to you, but you’ve heard his country and pop work countless times, like it or not. It’s all over the map, from karaoke and Idol fodder like the Bette Midler hit “Wind Beneath My Wings” (with more than 6 million radio plays) to his 1964 hit with The Newbeats, “Bread and Butter.” That’s Henley himself singing the falsetto line.
The Newbeats: “Bread and Butter”