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X's John Doe, now an Austinite, travels back in time on acoustic album 'Fables in a Foreign Land'

John Doe's "Fables in a Foreign Land" is his first solo album since he moved to Austin five years ago.

Though he’s best-known as a founder of influential 1980s California punk band X, it wasn’t all that surprising when John Doe moved to Austin in 2017. The solo records he’s made over the past three decades mostly fit into the Americana singer-songwriter realm that has long had a stronghold here, and he’d befriended many Austin musicians over the years.

X remains a going concern — they released a new album in 2020 and continue to tour regularly — but not long after he arrived in Austin, Doe started playing acoustic shows around town. The John Doe Folk Trio features bassist Kevin Smith and drummer Conrad Choucroun, who tour in the bands of Willie Nelson and Patty Griffin, respectively.

“I just wanted to have something that was more intimate, and focused on the songs more than lead guitar,” Doe explained. Informal jams on Smith’s back porch in Dripping Springs during the pandemic helped give shape to some songs Doe had begun writing. The end result was “Fables in a Foreign Land,” which comes out this week on Fat Possum Records.

The trio recorded mostly live at Jim Eno’s Public Hi-Fi studio with producers Steve Berlin and Dave Way, aiming to keep the same feel of those back-porch sessions. Austin violinist Carrie Rodriguez and San Antonio accordionist Josh Baca joined on a few cuts, with Berlin adding “assorted sneaky things on several tracks,” according to the album credits.

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The stripped-down production fits the focus of the album’s 13 songs, which Doe pointedly set in the 1890s. The goal, he said, wasn’t so much to create a throwback folk record — “I didn’t try to make it sound like the Mississippi Sheiks or something” — but rather to focus on the different priorities Americans had in the 19th century.

Doe had become fascinated with the time period from reading books by authors such as Michael Blake (“Dances With Wolves,” “Marching to Valhalla”) and Douglas C. Jones (“Winding Stair,” “Arrest Sitting Bull”). “I've been a fan of that era because it's so elemental,” he said. “It's like, get food or die, get shelter or die, get your leg cut off or die — whatever you’ve got to do.

John Doe with guest fiddler Carrie Rodriguez at Stateside at the Paramount on May 7.

Other collaborators got involved in the writing process. The sculptor-songwriter Terry Allen contributed to “Never Coming Back,” the album’s opening track and first single. “I sent him ‘Never Coming Back’ thinking that the song was finished,” Doe said. “But he sent me back a whole bunch of other lyrics, and then I thought, 'Oh, maybe the song’s not finished.' And sure enough, I made the chorus longer with some of the phrases that he had.”

More new Austin music:Willie Nelson keeps on rolling at 89 with new album 'A Beautiful Time'

The track “Destroying Angels” first appeared as a 2018 Record Store Day collaborative single between the rock band Garbage and Doe with his X partner Exene Cervenka. Doe and Garbage singer Shirley Manson had written the murder ballad together when their bands toured together a few years ago.

“I liked the melody that we came up with,” Doe said. “We added several chords in the version that Garbage did, and I thought I would like to reclaim this and make it a little simpler, a little more like a traditional murder ballad.”

And when he realized the track “El Romance-O” would benefit from a Spanish verse, he sought out Louie Pérez of the Los Angeles band Los Lobos. “We're old pals,” he said, explaining that Los Lobos and X essentially came of age together in 1970s-'80s Los Angeles. “Louie is smart, and he’s really connected to his culture in a very cool way, as all the Lobos are.”

Doe will be on the road with X for much of the summer, opening shows for the Psychedelic Furs. But he plans to do as many shows as possible with the Folk Trio, including an East Coast/Midwest run in June.

Tours can be tricky; Smith is often out with Nelson, and Choucroun with Griffin, so Doe has recruited Austin’s husband-wife rhythm section of bassist Brad Fordham and Lisa Pankratz as fill-ins when necessary. Fordham joined Doe and Choucroun for a show earlier this month at Stateside at the Paramount. Another Austin appearance, an in-store at Waterloo Records, is set for May 26.

Here’s the video for “Never Coming Back”:

MORE NEW AUSTIN MUSIC

Here’s a look at other local records out this month.

Midland, 'The Last Resort: Greetings From'

How to appraise Midland? The mainstream country trio has had a rocky relationship with their adopted home turf. They got accused of carpetbagging (probably unfairly) after moving to Dripping Springs from Los Angeles when they launched the band, and later unwisely photoshopped the name of East Austin barbecue joint Sam’s out of promotional photos provided to The Washington Post. (They did apologize and reached out to make amends.) And then there’s their flamboyant fashion sense, perhaps best described as cartoon chic.

Midland, from left: Cameron Duddy, Mark Wystrach and Jess Carson.

But what really matters is the music they make. Since their self-titled 2016 debut EP, Midland has consistently churned out records that are far better than most of what makes it onto country radio. Their songs have killer pop hooks but remain deeply rooted in traditional country, thanks to liberal doses of pedal steel and singer Mark Wystrach’s steeped-in-twang voice.

Wystrach, guitarist Jess Carson and bassist Cameron Duddy wrote most of the material on their third full-length album with Nashville songwriters Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne. Highlights include opener “The Last Resort,” which coasts on an instantly catchy chorus; “Take Her Off Your Hands,” a jealous-guy barroom tale with great harmonies and guitar strums that bring to mind Tom Petty; and “Longneck Way to Go,” an upbeat, danceable collaboration with Jon Pardi.

Two departures from the collaborative-songwriting approach in the record’s latter half reveal more about the band’s strengths, and weaknesses. Carson’s “Life Ain’t Fair” is more folk-rock in sound and feel but fits in well and proves Carson to be a likable singer in his own right. Duddy wrote and sings “King of Saturday Night,” which so obviously apes the Rolling Stones that it’s almost embarrassing. Stick with it, though, for the closing track, “Adios Cowboy,” which goes down smooth and sweet with Wystrach back out front.

Release date: May 6. Playing: Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic at Q2 Stadium. Here’s the lyric video for the title track:

Don Leady, 'Panther Pink'

This seven-song release from the guitarist known for his work with local bands the Tail Gators and the LeRoi Brothers is the third in a series of instrumental EPs, following 2021’s “Cumbia Meets the Blues” and January’s “Cumbia Wipeout: Blues Explosion.” On his Bandcamp page, Leady calls this latest set “a culmination headed toward surfy, twangy R&B, blues, Latin jazz and cumbia.”

Release date: May 13. Here’s the title track:

Tennessee Stiffs, 'Dearly Departed'

The latest from this quintet led by husband-wife Ethan Lee and Cara Jane Sadler, it's an 18-song set described in press materials as “an ambitious, semi-autobiographical coming-of-age concept album about a band on a good-intentions-paved tour to hell and back.”

Release date: May 6. Playing: June 4 at Poodie’s Hilltop Lounge. Here’s the track “Josephine”:

A. Sinclair, 'South Padre'

Austin indie-rocker Aaron Sinclair’s follow-up to last year’s “Sunshine Ghost” features collaborations with Strange Pains, Beat Awfuls, Sean Murphy and others. Sinclair cast a wider net in the writing process for “South Padre,” seeking out contributions from artists from afar that he knew and admired while the pandemic isolated him from a more typical studio process with his Austin bandmates.

Release date: May 13. Here’s the track “City Life”:

Everett Wren, 'Porchlight'

Everett Wren is the alias of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Chris Peterson, who formerly played in local groups Chalkboard Poets and Lost & Nameless and toured with St. Louis alt-country band Wagon. This is his solo debut.

Release date: May 20. Playing: May 21 at Butterfly Bar. Here’s the track “Rebirth”:

Lisa Morales, 'El Amor No Es Cobarde' EP

The first collection of all Spanish-language songs from Morales includes “Hermana,” a tribute to Roberta Morales, her sister and former partner in the duo Sisters Morales.

Release date: May 5. Playing: Aug. 12 at Bugle Boy in La Grange. Here’s the track “Sirena”:

RECENTLY RELEASED

Sir Woman, self-titled

The full-length debut from Wild Child singer Kelsey Wilson’s suddenly much-more-than-a-side-project band was ready to go in 2020 when the pandemic arrived, but she shifted gears and released the five-song EP “Bitch” instead. Five of these nine tracks trickled out as singles over the past year, starting with the lively opener “Party City.” Four more tracks round out this set of soulful, danceable indie-pop.

Playing: May 20 at Far Out Lounge, May 28 at Dreamland in Dripping Springs, and June 3 at Mueller Lake Park. Here’s the track “Good Lady”:

Caleb De Casper, 'Femme Boy'

Drawn to Austin after playing with local punk band Xetas in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., De Casper has turned heads here with flamboyant live performances that emphasize his identity as a queer artist. Sabrina Ellis of Sweet Spirit guests on the track “Dreamer.” These dozen songs, produced by Joe Stacey, follow De Casper’s self-titled 2019 EP.

Playing: June 7 at Umlauf Sculpture Garden. Here’s the video for the opening track, “Too Many Boys”:

Johnny Degollado y JJ Barrera, 'Musica Al Estilo de Camilo'

An Austin music fixture since his teenage years in the 1950s, Degollado pays tribute to mid-20th-century accordion artist Camilo Cantú with 10 instrumental tracks he learned from the master. Longtime local bassist Barrera joins on bajo sexto; the album was recorded, mixed and mastered by Nico Leophonte at Austin studio Alnico. In a brief recitation introducing the album, Degollado acknowledges that “I learned to play music from him. He taught me how to repair accordions, too. Besides teaching me, he was a great friend. … I was fortunate to do this CD as close as I could to his style of music.”

Johnny Degollado's new album pays tribute to his accordion mentor, Camilo Cantú.

COMING SOON

JUNE 3: Adrian Quesada, “Boleros Psicodélicos”

JUNE 3: Beth//James, “Get Together”

JUNE 10: Patty Griffin, “Tape”

JUNE 10: Calder Allen, “The Game”

JUNE 24: Ralph E. White, “It’s More in My Body Than in My Mind”

JULY 15: … And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, “XI: Bleed Here Now”

JULY 15: Get Set Go, “#dinosore”

JULY 29: Eric Johnson, “The Book of Making” and “Yesterday Meets Today”

JULY 30: Madam Radar, title TBA

AUG. 5: Buenos Diaz, “Cocaine Queen”

AUG. 19: Western Youth, “Rock & Roll” EP

SEPT. 17: Andrea Magee, “Belfast Girl”

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