In the expansive stylistic breadth that punk’s attitude and ideology both allows and demands, it’s no surprise that its pioneers are the ones who've seemed to take most advantage and keep pushing its innovation. Whether it be Ian Mackaye’s minimalist baritone approach with the Evens, John Lydon’s foray into musique concrète with Public Image Ltd., or Joe Strummer’s world-music punk with the Mescaleros, it appears the legions that followed the first few waves of punk have been plagued hardest of all with the notion that good music made by punk rockers can somehow be “not punk enough.”
Consisting solely of Minutemen bassist Mike Watt and Black Flag bassist Kira Roessler (plus their basses), Dos formed after the death of Minutemen guitarist D. Boon in 1985 as a means for Watt to keep making music and emerge from the depression that ensued upon Boon’s passing. Roessler and Watt married in 1987 and were together until 1994, remaining friends and releasing Justamente Tres in 1996 -- though it was recorded from 1993 to 1994.
Justamente Tres is a low-key potpourri sampling Dos originals, classic covers and interpolations of Minutemen, fIREHOSE, and Watt’s solo songs. Perhaps the best track on the album comes right off the bat with a stunningly utilitarian rendition of Bessie Smith’s timeless bluesy jazz romp, “Down in the Dumps,” that somehow doesn’t sound lacking in any way, even with only two basses and vocals in lieu of a full Dixieland ensemble. The lively instrumental “Dream of San Pedro” is followed by a soulful cover of Patsy Cline’s “Imagine That.”
Two tracks on Justamente Tres would later evolve into full-band versions released on Watt’s solo record, Ball-Hog or Tugboat?, with the superior “Intense Song for Madonna to Sing” playing off the Minutemen’s “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing” plus the fairly flat “Sidemouse Advice.” Roessler gets theatrical covering “To Each His Dulcinea” from the Don Quixote musical Man of La Mancha, then reverts back to the `30s again with Ann Ronell’s “Willow Weep for Me.” “Powerful Hankerin'” is an instrumental with a relaxing progression and comforting hook that would later become a fIREHOSE song while Roessler provides vocals for her own Dos originals, “Little Doll” and “Even the Pain Has Changed,” as the latter proclaims, “It doesn’t get any easier / But there’s a light under the door / Could be a fire burning that’s already reached the core / Could be an empty reflection / There may be no fire no more.” The only track Watt contributes vocals for is the outstanding take on the Minutemen’s “Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth?”, but it works so well, it’s a shame he doesn’t do more vocals on the album.
If ever there was a band to serve as a reminder for what “punk” really means as a form of expression, Dos should be it. Make your own rules, play the music you wanna play…hell, play in a band with your ex-spouse if it’s what you want. Justamente Tres is a great collection of tunes, and a nice change of pace from punk as a musical style rather than a way of thinking.