If you’ve never heard the name Mike Doughty before, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The former frontman of the urban beat-rock group Soul Coughing has been touring and performing in relative obscurity since the band broke up in 2000. He recorded two solo albums, Skittish and Rockity Roll, but these were only available in limited quantities off of his website or at live appearances.
Now, however, all that has changed. Doughty recently signed with ATO Records and, for the first time, his music became commercially available to all in the form of a Skittish / Rockity Roll two-disc combo pack.
Skittish, recorded in one day in 1996, features Doughty, his guitar and a microphone. He’s backed by a synthesizer on one or two tracks, but other than that it’s just him. It is this stripped-down, bare essentials style of performance (“small rock,” as he calls it) that distinguishes the new Mike Doughty from the Soul Coughing-era Mike Doughty. With songs like “The Only Answer,” “No Peace Los Angeles” and his cover of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” Doughty is reinventing himself as a musician. Gone are the “stoned beyond all belief” surreal lyrics that were a hallmark of his Soul Coughing work. This new material is more cohesive, more focused and more (dare I say it) folksy.
Rockity Roll is Doughty’s most recent solo work, recorded in 2003. Unlike its predecessor Skittish, most tracks on Rockity Roll feature a synthetic drum machine and a synthesizer, in addition to the mandatory Doughty acoustic guitar. While the music still has the stripped-down “small rock” sound that highlighted Skittish, the drum machine gives his music an extra boost and rhythm that was missing before. Indeed, songs like “Ossining” and “27 Jennifers” set the human foot a-tapping in a way that only true rock and roll can.
With a full-band solo album on the way, Mike Doughty has nowhere to go but up. For a musician that has rebuilt himself from scratch, Doughty bears watching in the coming months. Until then, do yourself a favor and check out the roots of a blooming “new” musician.