I got my first tattoo, a tribal design, at Crescent City Tattoos on Magazine St, in uptown New Orleans with Mike Doughty singing in the background. The tattoo artist was playing Irresistible Bliss from Soul Coughing on his CD player. Throughout this somewhat painful and amazing experience of having art created on my arm, I felt relaxed and funkafied by this strange and addicting voice coming from the speakers. Ever since that moment I was hooked; a Doughty fan for life. I ran out and found everything he was on, from the 808 State track “Bond” to ” A Plane Scraped Its Belly on a Sooty Yellow Moon,” his collaboration with Roni Size on the Spawn Soundtrack. I even tracked down Poemfone: New World Order, a spoken word CD that had Doughty’s verse on four tracks.
For those not in the know, Doughty first gained notoriety as the frontman for the downtown New York band Soul Coughing. Doughty believed the group played a self professed `deep slacker jazz’ and they scored some critical success with their 1994 debut album Ruby Vroom. Doughty was definitely enjoying his life, having gone from doorman of the Knitting Factory to a major player in the New York underground rock scene. The band, featuring upright bassist Sebastian Steinberg, stumbled recording their follow up record Irresistible Bliss. The tensions that appeared during these sessions and the subsequent tour led to the disbanding of the group after the recording of their final album El Oso.
After Soul Coughing, Doughty added Mike back to his name, then recorded and released a record called Skittish and went solo, playing unplugged shows around America. Around this time he became infamous for his vocal on BT’s hit single “Never Gonna Come Back Down.” By now Soul Coughing was getting respect, like most groups do after breaking up, and Doughty was starting to reap benefits from such exposure. This is when, Dave Matthews came a-calling, inviting Doughty to release his music on ATO, home to artists such as David Gray and Patti Griffith. He and Doughty actually had a history, however, as Doughty’s former band opened up for Dave Matthews, having been a huge fan of Ruby Vroom especially “Janine.” When Doughty was searching for the right label to call home, Matthews’ artist friendly ATO seemed like a perfect match.
After many years waiting, Doughty fans finally get his first major label solo record Haughty Melodic. Doughty has removed most of his super-freak persona from his Soul Coughing days to focus on his more stripped-down, acoustic and lyrical side. Think of it as more mature, but don’t worry, he’s still the same madcap Doughty, the big dawg that we know and love. Doughty writes 21st Century acoustic love songs for the Indie geek inside of us. And I’m not talking about the type of songs that are played on the Clear Channel-owned “modern rock” station near you. Doughty has a much more artistic way with words and this goes back to his slamming days as a rhyming poet in NYC.
One of my favorite cuts, “Sunkeneyed Girl,” has been a staple in his live sets for the last few years. “You are the drinks that I keep and keep drinking, I fall down stumble” I mean which guy hasn’t fell like that, figurative and literally, for a girl. “And I’m no prize for you… no trophy too, keep walking through” Listen to the way he personifies meeting that girl behind the counter that we have all had that crush on. This leads me to another fave — “Busting Up a Starbucks.” This very funky and acoustic cut has Soul Coughing written all over it. This would have fit perfectly on Irresistible Bliss. Listen to when Doughty sings in his best deadpan slacker poet vocal— “This bitter drink has made you drunk//The thoughts you think/Become unthunk.” I mean who hasn’t wanted to bust up a Starbucks? Think of this song as an anthem for the Chuck Palahniuk generation.
Other highlights include the slide guitar flavored road trip song “American Girl,” with Doughty doing his best Americana on-the-road again vocal. A big surprise was the Dave Matthews duet “Tremendous Brunettes.” I’m not a fan of Mr. Matthews but this song is weird, funky and pure Doughty and Matthews’ voice actually fits on this track. But you need to check out “I Hear the Bells,” which features the beautiful backing vocals of Amy Jennings. “I Hear the Bells” is kind of a futuristic gospel flavored acoustic song with the lyrics “I hear the bells are ringing joyful and triumphantly.”
Haughty Melodic has arrived and now it’s time for you non-disciples to get down with the man they call Doughty. It’s pure Doughty with hints of post-modern pop-a-licious beats that will make any naysayer a fan after one listen.
(note: After picking up Haughty Melodic, if you want to discover the ultimate Doughty experience make sure you add: Soul Coughing’s compilation Lust in Phaze, his first ATO release Skittish/Rockity Roll and the hard to find live album called Smorfe + Smang to your CD collections. You will not regret it.)