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Partners in Crime: John Doe teamed up with Canadian singer/songwriter Kathleen Edwards for his current tour.

The X-Man Returneth

John Doe gets back to basics with a breakup album.

By John Malkin

After a relationship ended painfully, singer and bassist John Doe found himself struggling to forgive and move on. Longtime frontman for the seminal punk band X, Doe has captured the emotion and depth of the human condition in an authentic, well-crafted solo album that speaks from the heart. Doe and Kathleen Edwards perform songs from the album when their Hurtin' and Flirtin' Tour comes to Santa Cruz's Rio Theatre this Saturday."

A Year in the Wilderness has to do with relationship, wandering and being unsure of what's happening," says Doe. "It's about being away from a relationship and trying to get back to it. Relationships are difficult at best, and it was a particularly difficult time for me."

Doe writes lyrics and plays music as a way to explore and make sense of difficult times. "Writing these songs was a way of trying to figure out what happened, the impact it had on two people and how I wished it could've been different," he says.

The singer and bassist brings a maturity to his current sound that comes from years of touring and recording. Since co-founding X in 1976, he's played in a number of projects, including the Knitters and the John Doe Thing. "Bands nowadays are trying to be tricky, or sometimes music leans towards novelty," he says. "They aren't concentrating on writing just a good solid song. That's cool. I don't judge anybody for that, but I know what I like. I like things in the more classic songwriter vein."

In 2004, Doe met another artist who shared a love for classic songwriting; Canadian singer Kathleen Edwards. "We both had the opportunity to work on a benefit concert for the organization M.A.P.--Musicians' Assistance Program," says Doe. "It's a great organization that helps musicians get off of drugs and supplies the support to do that.

"Kathleen and I met in Santa Barbara the day before the show and really hit it off," remembers Doe. "We both drank a little whiskey that night; her husband was there, so it was all on the up and up. It was a great night, meeting someone who is from a younger generation and thinking, 'Well, things don't change.'"

Later Doe began working on A Year in the Wilderness and asked Edwards to sing on the song "Golden State." As Doe recalls, "We had talked about relationships, and Kathleen and I saw things in a similar way ... And she asked, 'Can I sing on this other song, "A Little More Time?"' I said, 'Sure, you can sing on as many songs as you want.' We formed a little partnership with that and talked about doing a short tour together."

Edwards also sings on the song "Unforgiven," with lyrics penned by Doe that speak of the possibility of moving on after painful experiences. "I think that forgiving yourself and trying to experience whatever sadness you come across in your life--separating from your family or from a loved one--there is no timetable that you can impose. But at the same time, the goal is to get through it, accept things and move forward."

A Year in the Wilderness was released last year, and in addition to Kathleen Edwards, also features Dave Alvin, Jill Sobule, Aimee Mann and Greg Leisz.

The Hurtin' and Flirtin' Tour is the current manifestation of the musical partnership between Doe and Edwards, and the two are performing solo versions of their own songs as well as blending their talents for songs together. "All music that is true to itself--whether it's from Pakistan or Kenya or wherever--you can tell," says Doe. "Even if you don't understand the words, there is something deep in it and you listen to it and think, 'Wow! That person is giving it up! They're there. They're doing it.'"

JOHN DOE AND KATHLEEN EDWARDS perform Saturday, Nov. 15, at 8pm at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15 at Streetlight Records and

John Malkin is a local musician and writer and host of 'The Great Leap Forward' every Wednesday night at 7pm on Free Radio Santa Cruz, 101.1 FM.

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