(Soundbite of music)
TERRY GROSS, host:
Ken Tucker has a review of John Doe's new solo album called "Keeper." Doe is probably still best known as the co-founder, in the late '70s, of the punk band X with Exene Cervenka. Since then, he's put out solo records, written poetry and acted in TV shows such as "Roswell" and "Carnivale," and in movies such as "The Good Girl" and "Great Balls of Fire!"
(Soundbite of song, "Never Enough")
Mr. JOHN DOE (Musician): (Singing) You got a closet full of junk. You got a room fill of junk. You got a house full of junk, and a room full of junk, and a closet full of junk, but it's never enough. No it's never enough.
KEN TUCKER: For a guy who started out his career yelling over loud guitars in the great Los Angeles punk band X, John Doe has steadily become one of the warmest, most welcome voices in pop music. There's a beseeching quality to his singing that draws you in with curiosity: What's this guy's story, you want to know. What's he thinking about?
(Soundbite of song "Moonbeam")
TUCKER: On "Keeper," he is, generally speaking, in a contemplative mood, and his crooning is frequently lovely.
(Soundbite of song "Moonbeam")
Mr. DOE: (Singing) Lying on my bed late at night, looking out the window at the pale moonlight. Moonbeams, moonbeams light up your picture on the wall.
TUCKER: John Doe has said his challenge in making his recent music has been to, quote, figure out how to write a love song where people actually get loved. Where a lot of his earlier music was about struggle - with relationships, with the world and, implicitly, with a career that has been defined 30 years ago as a punk-rock rebel working in a corporate town like L.A. - the music on "Keeper" presents an intriguingly assured John Doe, less conflicted but never merely laid-back.
(Soundbite of song "Giant Step Backward")
Mr. DOE: (Singing) Working in a factory, you're always next to me. When the sun came up we got our coffee cups. Walking down the road to a dirty job. A muddy road to a dirty job. You take it up and I take it back. I'll take a giant step backward to bring you back.
TUCKER: That's John Doe harmonizing with Patty Griffin. The giant step backward that the song title and chorus refer to is the notion that sometimes to achieve some degree of happiness, you have to go back to someone or to an earlier time that brought you comfort and love.
(Soundbite of song "Don't Forget How Much I Love You")
Mr. DOE: (Singing) In the summer we climbed down to the river looking for pictures in the clouds. Lying on our backs watching creatures pass, stepping on the stepping stones and laughing. Yeah, we're laughing. Don't forget how much I love you. Don't forget how much I care. And when you see the stars on the leaves up above you, just remember I am there.
TUCKER: That happiness I just spoke of, it glows and warms the songs such as the one I just played, "Don't Forget How Much I Love You," while retaining all the force and forward momentum of any of Doe's most aggressive music. In a lot of songs here, Doe locates a place somewhere between rock 'n' roll and country music to summon up the atmosphere he wants to achieve.
There are also songs that operate as the gorgeous soundtrack to a darkly romantic movie in which John Doe is the B-movie star, a vocal version of Robert Ryan or Dana Andrews, seeking solace and serenity.
(Soundbite of song "Lucky Penny")
Mr. DOE: (Singing) When we walk your moonlit hair waves by your side, sweet scent of mine. You take my hand so casually and pick me up like a penny. Put me in your pocket. Hold me there for keeps. Squeeze me all of your lifetime. Hold onto me 'cause I'll be there for a long long time.
TUCKER: Throughout "Keeper," John Doe meets the challenge he's set for himself, one that gives the album its pleasing tension. The goal here seems to have been to create a sequence of songs that would embody the qualities of satisfaction and fulfillment, while retaining a buoyancy and lilt. The result is music that carries you along in its brisk wake.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed John Doe's new album "Keeper."
I'm Terry Gross.