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CD Review: Mike Doughty – Skittish/Rockity Roll

Does the name Mike Doughty ring a bell? Didn’t think so, but it should.

That first line was based on the assumption that you are not familiar with the band Soul Coughing. I probably shouldn’t make that assumption, but they never really did make it big, sure they had a minor hit with “Circles” off of their third album, El Oso, but that was back in 1998. Sadly that would be their last album.

If you are not familiar with Soul Coughing, I recommend that you go and check out any of their albums, Ruby Vroom, Irresistible Bliss, and the previously mentioned El Oso. During their reign they created a self described form of slacker jazz, fueled by quirky music with a laid back groove, and featuring, as I have seen it described, coffee house poet lyrics. A very interesting style of music that is easy to listen too and has some great wordplay layered throughout. But that is enough about Soul Coughing, I am sure you are all now wondering what I think of this two CD set from the former frontman, Mike Doughty.

My initial reaction was that it is a very good set, full of that familiar Soul Coughing aura, but also standing apart as something completely different. Mike wanted to do acoustic music, but unfortunately that sound didn’t really fit in with what Soul Coughing did, so in 1996, the same year that Irresistible Bliss was released, he recorded an acoustic album, Skittish. For some reason, it was rejected by his label, a real shame too, as this probably would have sold well to the established Soul Coughing fan base, but could have expanded into the acoustic music fans. A small base to be sure, but there would have been enough there to support it’s release. As it turns out, it became a success on Napster, as Mike found out doing a solo tour, post-Soul Coughing. In 2003 he recorded some more acoustic songs, but added some synthesizer and drum machine to give it another layer, and that became the album Rockity Roll. This set presents both albums, plus a couple of live tracks and outtakes from the Skittish sessions.

The first disk I listened to was Skittish. I was immediately struck by the sparseness. I knew that it was an acoustic album, but I was unaware that it was a true solo album, I had figured that there would be other instruments involved. Quickly I discovered that it did not need anything else, it grooves along with it’s own mellow rhythm. Doughty has created a laid back, jazzy, funky album that has a very natural ebb and flow to it. It still has the trademark coffeehouse type lyrics, but it strikes me as being something more personal than he was able to express within the confines of the band environment. Standout tracks include “Real Love/It’s Only Life,” “Thank You Lord, For Sending Me the F Train,” and “Language Barrier.” But in the end, the entire album plays well together, although it is on the short side.

Next up was Rockity Roll, recorded in 2003. This is a bit of a departure from the previous work. It still has that trademark Doughty droning voice and quirky arrangements, but where previously it was a strictly acoustic affair, he adds in some synthesizer and drum machine beats to the mix. These additions give these tracks an odder feel when combined with his acoustic guitar and lyrical delivery. In addition to the 6 new tracks, there are also 2 live tracks recorded in 2003, a couple of unused tracks from the Skittish sessions, and a song used for a soundtrack to a film called Evenhand. The standout track here would be “27 Jennifers.”

Bottomline. This is a very easy set to recommend. It is highly original, and deserves a wide audience. So if you are a fan of Soul Coughing, or just like music that grooves and stands out from a crowd, pick this set up, you won’t be disappointed.

Highly Recommended.

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