The great Los Angeles punkabilly quartet known as X had already made their best albums by 1985, when three-fourths of its lineup joined guitarist Dave Alvin to form the country and western offshoot The Knitters. That band took 20 years to brew a follow-up, but X/Knitters co-frontman John Doe’s sand-polished voice instantly proved to be such a natural and expressive delivery system for old-timey C&W that you knew (or at least hoped) he’d eventually get around to cutting a record like “Country Club”— his month-old set of (primarily) Bakersfield-centric “countrypolitan” classics, recorded with Toronto-based roots eclecticians The Sadies.
The Doe-Sadies eschewed Stetsons in favor of sportjackets at IOTA Friday night for a rollicking 90-minute hootenanny that found room for a dozen or so of those venerable tunes, plus originals from both their songbooks and a couple of Knitters and X numbers to boot. As if that weren’t an embarrassment of riches already, we also got handful of other well-curated covers on which Sadie Travis Good brought the growl and Doe supplied the howl; the former on Marty Robbins’s gunfighter ballad “Big Iron”; the latter on Webb Pierce’s alcoholic lament “There Stands the Glass.” For honky-tonk revelry, nothing topped the cranky two-fer that shut down the set proper: X’s “The New World” followed by Merle Haggard’s “Are the Good Times Really Over for Good,” two postcards from the early-80s recession that could’ve been written last month.
But this being a country show and all, the slow jams were just as abundant, and just as swell. Good’s high-and-lonesome guitar matched Doe’s sensitive delivery on weepers like Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and Doe’s own overlooked ballad “A Little More Time.” The Sadies have previously backed Jon Langford and Neko Case, so that they’re musically and spiritually sympatico with Doe — like Langford, a punk-gone-country; like Case, a performer whose easygoing stage persona belies a predilection for lyrical darkness — came as no surprise. Sometimes merely living up to expectations is plenty good enough.
An almost identical version of this review appears today on Post Rock.