By “Tampa” Earl Burton
Review: John Doe’s Fables in a Foreign Land via Fat Possum Records – Release date May 20, 2022
There’s little in the world of rock and roll that X’s founder and guitarist John Doe hasn’t seen. Doe was responsible for creating the punk rock world in Los Angeles (and writing about it in an outstanding autobiography Under the Big Black Sun in 2017), but he has been noticeably absent from the music world since 2016’s The Westerner. That will change as Doe comes back by stepping back in time, so to speak.
On May 20, Doe will release his latest album, Fables in a Foreign Land, and it marks a significant change for Doe. While it might seem that he is going for an Americana album, there’s a little deeper story to it. Fables is, in essence, a concept album, with all the songs set in the 1890’s telling the stories of despair, the harshness of life, and the stories of separation and loneliness – something that many have seen during the COVID lockdowns of the past couple of years.
Any song off the 13-track album is extremely deep, but there are two that are particularly noteworthy on Fables. The first would be “Down South,” where Doe tells of the lamentations of a man (it appears) who has lost all in his life – love (perhaps his wife and child), his property, and other tangible things. But, in a surprising upswell of hope, Doe infuses his character with a forward looking, optimistic spirit. You can almost feel this daily rejuvenation through the lyricism of Doe’s song.
The other noteworthy track would be the current release, “Never Coming Back.” Doe tells the story of a man who has experienced the passing of his parents and his desires to leave the area he’s known for the entirety of his life. It evokes some of the work of Texas’ The Flatlanders and, in particular, Butch Hancock, in examining the difficult life of that era.
Throughout the entirety of the album, Doe doesn’t allow for a frenetic “punk” sound to take over. His acoustic guitar work is outstanding, and his weathered vocals are still strong and powerfully tell the stories he has written. Each track in its own right has a stunning wealth of depth to them.
It is a distinct departure for Doe, but one he might want to consider exploring more in the future because he does it so well. Fables in a Foreign Land hits the streets on May 20 and it presents a side of X’s John Doe that many might not realize exists.
Fables in a Foreign Land track listing:
- Never Coming Back
- Down South
- See The Almighty
- Guilty Bystander
- There’s A Black Horse
- El Romance-0
- The Cowboy and the Hot Air Balloon
- After The Fall
- Destroying Angels
- Travelin’ So Hard
- Where The Songbirds Live