By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


July 17, 2005

The Knitters
"The Modern Sounds of the Knitters"
ZoŽ Records

"Sounds good to me," somebody mutters as the last note fades on "Born to Be Wild," the final track of the Knitters' "reunion" CD.

And that's as good a review as any.

The joke is that the Knitters are an old-timey country-folk band, contemporaries of the Carters and Monroe and the Stanleys, revisiting their old tunes in "modern" arrangements.

And it's a pretty funny joke, considering that the band is X's John Doe, Exene Cervenka and drummer D.J. Bonebrake; ex-Blaster and fill-in X-er Dave Alvin on guitar; and bassist Jonny Ray Bartel. And they do revisit old songs: by X, Doe and Alvin, as well as by the Stanley Brothers, Porter Wagoner and -- yes -- Steppenwolf.

The Knitters' first album 20 years ago, "Poor Little Critter on the Road," was influential in the way it translated X's punk rock to acoustic country music. Indeed, on a recent tribute album, "Poor Little Knitter on the Road," alt- and alt-alt-country artists reprise that CD track-for-track.

The new CD links to the older album via the twisted rockabilly sequel "The New Call of the Wrecking Ball," in which the chicken stomper of the original now has "a slaughterhouse job in Greeley, Colorado/puttin' the fear of God into unsuspecting cattle."

Throughout, the CD is marked by the Grace Slick-meets-the-B-52's harmonies of Doe and Cervenka; Alvin's brilliant guitar work; and Doe's confident, controlled and heartfelt singing.

Highlights include the Flatt and Scruggs chestnut "Give Me Flowers While I'm Living," X remakes "In This House That I Call Home," "Skin Deep Town" and "Burning House of Love"; Alvin's lament for the paving over of California, "Dry River"; and Jimmy Driftwood's spooky "Long Chain On."

As side projects go, "Modern Sounds" is a good one. And if it sends a few music fans back to the original versions -- by X or the old-timers -- so much the better.