Exene Cervenka: Somewhere Gone

RIYL: Knitters, Nanci Griffith, Maria McKee

Most artists who are able to maintain any sort of credibility and longevity usually prove adept at the power of transformation, especially when it comes to adapting their style. After all, continuing in the same direction after a decade or more almost inevitably becomes tiresome without at least some tweaking to the standard MO. Never mind the Eagles or Billy Joel; who would have expected Dylan to rail on forever in protest and poetic mode, or that Joni Mitchell would retain her little girl innocence and pensive strum without some further artistic embellishment? Yet even with that basic precept in mind, witnessing Exene Cervenka’s stylistic transformation – from punk goddess with X to the folk loyalist she’s become – still registers as a somewhat drastic evolution. After all, her stewardship of X, one of Los Angeles’ most virulent punk bands, set a standard of sorts for an entire decade of West Coast outrage and insurgency, reconfiguring Southern California’s sunny vibes into a hotbed of rock rebellion easily on par with the Manhattan graduating class of CBGB’s.

Of course, Cervenka wasn’t the only member of X to ceremoniously segue from turbulence to tradition. Both her male counterparts, John Doe and rotating member Dave Alvin, followed the same course, and when Cervenka and Doe formed the Knitters, a down-home revival band powered by unabashed devotion, the stage was set. Cervenka herself has proven to be both durable and diversified, spawning a notable solo career, various side projects and even an impressive literary output. But with her latest venture, the tellingly dubbed Somewhere Gone, Cervenka ups the ante when it comes to back porch ambiance and freewheeling folksiness. With Amy Farris’ fiddle play at the fore, she plunges head first into distinctly rural environs, finding an easy fit in these sing-along settings. Being that this is her first solo soirée in almost two decades, there’s reason enough to believe that she’s naturally more mellow and had ample time to rethink her course, but given the laidback vibe of “Trojan Horse,” “Somewhere Gone” and “The Willow Tree,” it’s actually easy to imagine her perched out in a pasture somewhere, sucking on some straw while contentedly watching as the livestock graze. The ramshackle “Fine Familiar” and rollicking honkytonk of “Walk with Me across the Night” only reinforce that notion.

Still, Cervenka’s segue may surprise those who only remember her through the tinted lens of two decades gone by. Though no longer in the guise of a femme fatale, who would have expected Cervenka would reinvent herself as a country crooner? (Bloodshot, 2009)

Exene Cervenka MySpace page
Click to buy Somewhere Gone from Amazon