THE JOHN DOE THING Freedom Is… (Twah!)

Once of famed LA cowpunk band X, "Freedom Is…" appears to be John Doe's first long player with Thing appended to his name. The cover sticker isn't shy about pointing out the press of little league celebrity involved in the making of the album: Joey Waronker has drummed for Beck and R.E.M., Money Mark is both a solo artist and the Beastie Boys' keyboard player and carpenter, whilst producer Dave Way, has, rather incongruously, work with TLC, Christine Aguilera, Macy Gray, Savage Garden and Spice Girls on his CV. Former partner and X cohort Exene Cervenkova sings on one track too.

The John Doe Thing's music reminds me strongly of Paul Westerberg's solo albums. It displays a similar blend of early R.E.M. eloquence and Rolling Stones gritty swagger, a raw, live feel brought to bear on songs that seem to be primarily about the perils of addiction, be it to music, love, drugs or alcohol. And just like Westerberg's, the 15 songs on "Freedom Is..." initially appear pleasant and obviously crafted but just slightly too anonymous to register, before repeated plays (and the album needs a good half dozen plays to bed in) find these subtle songs itching triggers into the listener's head.

Good things abound here: "Some Day/No Day" flits ably from the atmospheric to the anthemic, and the plangent, chiming chorus of "Telephone By The Bad" catches you unawares. Highlight, however, is undoubtedly the haunting, cold melancholia of "Sueltame". If you enjoy the more muscular end of Americana, or, dare I say it, Paul Westerberg, "Freedom Is…" will amply reward your time and trouble.