Record Review - 3 September 11 2002

John Doe founded X more than a quarter-century ago. But while there are echoes of his former band in the spare, countrified folk-pop that predominates his latest album, Dim Stars, Bright Sky, Doe also explores a variety of other songwriter guises.

One welcome X holdover is Doe's harmonizing duets, which here feature Jane Wiedlin, Juliana Hatfield and Aimee Mann on four of the album's 10 tracks. Mann's number, "This Far," is a real winner, reminiscent of his former band, with Doe's plaintive warble rambling over a country shuffle, slowly building to a full-throated chorus duet. The album's piano-driven tunes split between the successful light rag of album-opener "7 Holes" and the overproduced Billy Joel-isms of "Still You." There are some nice Eastern musical touches on "Magic," with the Wallflowers' Jakob Dylan. But all of it's overshadowed by Doe's collaboration with Old 97's leader Rhett Miller on "Backroom," a rousing jangle-pop tune about workplace treachery.

This is only Doe's third solo album in the last decade, and he's still finding his way. Consequently, it seems the album's material is frustratingly hit-or-miss despite performances that are generally on target.??