It’s always cool to share a kinship with an artist and it’s easier to dive deep into their music when you know a bit about their background and history. Two years ago, Fred Wilson
sent over a track called ‘Grey Ghost’ and asked whether it might be a reference to a housing area at West Point, New York
where we all grew up. As it turned out, it did indeed and the reason was that the author of that song, Mike Doughty
, also happened to live there for a while. My sister filled in the rest; she had met him at an elementary school reunion, mentioned that there was this guy that was in this band called Soul Coughing
, and had asked if I’d ever heard of them. I had, but wasn’t really a fan.
I picked up a copy of Mike’s ‘Haughty Melodic’
LP as a result fully expecting to discover that I’d already heard the best song on the album and it would then forever afterwards take up space in the CD rack. What I discovered instead was a fantastic collection of well crafted and catchy tunes complimented by witty, insightful, and honest lyrical prose. The production (by Semisonic’s Dan Wilson who reprises the roll on the new album) was so good that I didn’t even notice it. It’s been a favorite in our house ever since (my fav “White Lexus” and “Tremendous Brunettes”).
Mike’s latest, ‘Golden Delicious’
simply picks up from there. What a relief… ‘Haughty Melodic’ was so good front to back that it’s tough not to brace for the next one to be something less. The best thing about Mike, his band, and his records (the last two at least) is his honesty. This record like the last is free from excessive overdubs and production tricks which leaves the largely organic instruments to sound the way they’re supposed to. There is intentional space left between all components that’s really quite refreshing, evocative of say, Peter Case’s first two solo works compared to his last five records. Mike knows who is: an Army brat who grew up neither upper, middle, or lower class, but in the strange in-between worlds of a career military family moving every three years to exotic and not so exotic places. Our friendships seemingly fleeting to others, yet in actuality strong and enduring due to the common bond created by a nomadic youth. It forces you to develop a jaded sense of humor to deal with all the tearful departures. It makes us a fearless bunch to a large degree.
All this shows up on Mike’s record. When he’s lost for words, he simply substitutes jibber and it works, because why make shit it up and force it. I love the diversity of the grooves too. It’s tough to pigeon hole his style. He can craft a pop sing along as good as any of the masters past and present (“27 Jennifer’s” will surely show up on the charts), but he can make you dance too (“I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep on Dancing” and “Put it Down”). He’ll put it all out there as he does with the indulgent mash up “More Bacon Than The Pan Can Handle” and then go dark and introspective on the brilliant “I Got the Drop on You” and trippy rainy day sounding “Wednesday”. Many songwriters will write songs that get discarded or recorded by others if they don’t fit into their own record label defined “sound” or “image”. Mike simply tosses them on table and says “here you are, I don’t care, and neither should you”. He likes what he likes and I like that. It reminds me of a friend of mine whom I admire a lot.
And what about ‘Fort Hood’
, Mike’s mid tempo ode to our soldiers in harms way? He addressed the song on his blog
after hearing that it’s gone viral amongst the troops…“The first verse is about guilt. That I can go about my daily life without thinking of the violence and the fear in Iraq, and the sacrifice people are making over there.
The first part of the second verse is about frustration with political pissing matches, instead of unity among our elected representatives to serve these guys. The second half is about how the war haunts me; how I see dudes in uniform in airports and wonder what's going on in their heads, what they've witnessed."
Some may call it a protest song and move on, but given our common up bringing I’d say it’s a call out to everyone to not forget there is a war going on, and regardless of what one might think about it justifications our troops deserve our best.
It’s been a VERY long time since I’ve enjoyed a album of new music from the first track to the last so quickly, one that you never hit the skip button on (well, since ‘Haughty Melodic’ that is). It reminds me of more furtile times in the music biz that are long gone. It’s more than a facination with the fact that someone from my hometown has made good in the music biz. No, I’m quite sure it’s the fact that Golden Delicious is great record even if Mike had been the son of a bear trapper and grew up in Saskatchewan Canada.
For a sample, click the player in the margin and as always let me know what you think.