Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mike Doughty’s Golden Delicious Sounds

There are some bands you remember exactly where you were the first time you heard them. For me Soul Coughing is one of those bands. I was living in Chicago and a friend of mine hipped me to them. The first song I heard was, “Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago.” I was hooked and I have been listening to Mike Doughty’s work ever since.

That said, it was with great anticipation that I opened Doughty’s latest solo CD, Golden Delicious, (released February 19 of ATO Records) and popped into the CD player. I was brought back to the hooks and turns of phrase that initially grabbed me back in, gulp, 1995.

The album leads off with the sublime anti-war track, “Fort Hood,” a song about soldiers going to Iraq and returning home. The power of this song is increased by the melding of serious lyrics with very danceable music and contains a “sample” of “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sun Shine In),” from Hair. “Fort Hood is the Texas Army base that has lost the most troops in the Iraq War,” Doughty says. “I visited some of the wounded troops at Walter Reed Hospital in D.C. and wondered what was going through their minds. When I first thought about using ‘Let the sunshine in…’ as the chorus, I thought it would be funny, but when I sang it, I felt myself tearing up. [‘Let the Sunshine In’] draws an obvious parallel to past quagmires, and all the vets who are suffering from PTSD. Once again the damage being done will not only be in lives lost, but in how those losses affect family, friends and society as a whole. The bridge laments the fact that instead of going to the prom, they’ve been given a burden they’re going to have to live with forever.”

While some Soul Coughing fans have criticized the direction of his solo work, it is hard to deny that “Fort Hood” is possibly the most moving song Mike Doughty has recorded. It also proves, as George Clinton has often demonstrated, that you can shake your booty at the protest rally. And to bash him for moving forward and trying new sounds and feels to his music is unfair. In addition, it smacks of the unpleasant hipper-than-thou-attitude that some music fans have—if it becomes somewhat popular, it no longer has any artistic merit. And that’s just plain wrong.

The first single off the album is “27 Jennifers.” This playful track is about how at Doughty’s High School all the girls seemed to have the same name. As Mike Doughty and I are the same age, I remember my town’s version of the 27 Jennifers. One of the highlights of this tune is John Kirby’s (From The Black Eyed Peas) keyboard playing. There is also a video of this track available, right here.

While I genuinely dig the whole album, other stand out tracks include, “I Wrote a Song About Your Car,” “I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep on Dancing,” and “Like a Luminous Girl.” These three songs really highlight Mike Doughty’s ability to craft catchy and meaningful songs. For example, “I Just Want the Girl . . .” is a great song about seeing someone he wants to meet in the audience at one of his shows, and the ultimate futility of that. What really clinches this song, though, is his use of the “brrmbpdpdmdm” drum sound lyrics from the song, “The Little Drummer Boy.”

John Kirby is not the only outstanding player in Mike Doughty’s band. Pete McNeal (From Cake) is on drums and John Munson (From Semisonic) plays bass. Percussionist, Ken Chastain, and singer, Mankwe Ndosi, round out the band. This is a great band, which is demonstrated by the fact Golden Delicious was largely recorded live. The live recording gives immediacy to the songs. This feel is often lost when songs are built in layers in the studio.

One of the major strengths of Mike Doughty is he brings a super eclectic blend of music to the mix. His syncopated guitar style is a result of trying to play the rhythms of Public Enemy on guitar. On the lyrics front, Doughty studied with the poet Sekou Sundiata at the New School in New York. “Sundiata told me to let the poem, or the song, do what it wanted to do,” Doughty explains. “He spoke about how to be musical, how words exist within time and transcend time. I’m rhythmically driven; it’s my blessing and my curse. The rhythms of my guitar, the nature of my voice and the strange cadence of the lyrics aren’t funky enough to be funk, but they’re too funky to be rock.” To my mind, this conflict of the funky is what really makes Mike Doughty worth listening to. You never know where he is going to take you on his journey—but it’s always going to be a good and funky and rockin’ place.


Danielle said...

You know, the only two tracks that have stuck with me are "27 Jennifers" (or Heathers, or Michelles) and "Nectarine." Other than those two, I don't find myself humming much from the album.

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