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Mike Doughty
Sad Man Happy Man
ATO Records
www.mikedoughty.com


Mike Doughty is, without exception, one of the finest songwriters of the new millennium. Since the inception of Soul Coughing, he has constantly striven to push his lyrical compositions ever farther, integrating aspects from the Beats, the streets, poetry/prose and common modern slang. Mixing all this into one big ball of words, Doughty takes key phrases and repeats with a rhythmic intensity and flavor the which none of his peers can manage. Layer all this English mayhem on top of acoustic guitars and dancey beats with an occasional keyboard and you have the latest in the highly organic and musical library of M. Doughty.

Sad Man Happy Man is allegedly a more abstract approach to songwriting, written in response to so many of Doughty's fans giving him a hard time about the "straight" way he has approached his last couple records. While the lyrical content of his last records have been a bit less… tangential… the music has always been highly likeable and laced with vibe. His latest is no exception in the groove department, but he has definitely taken a more old school approach to his lyrics and occasionally to his production as well. Tossing aside more common lyrical idioms, Doughty instead falls back on obscure phrases that mean something different to anyone who might listen, imbuing his lyrics with an obscurity that is at once universal and confusing. With a more stripped down, simple and visceral sound, Sad Man Happy Man starts off with "Nectarine (Part 2)", a loose continuation of "Nectarine (Part 1)" from Golden Delicious. The song has much less nonsensical lalas and relies instead on solid lyricality. The vibey electric piano and super-smooth drumming of part 1 is replaced by an aggressive acoustic guitar strum and swinging rhythm - nearly approaching country - before a cello joins in to fill out the lower registers and give the song a satisfying timbre to accompany the more than content lyrics. "(I Keep On) Rising Up" begins with a nice backbeat that takes full advantage of the groove inherent in Doughty's music, guitars are almost non-existent, strings play various roles (none of them traditional) and boingy sounds fill out the mix. The lyrics hold steady, repeating the hook over and over and throwing in a few meandering delayed sounds for good measure. "Lorna Zauderberg" is a perfect example of Doughty's return to form and recalls all those wonderfully obscure poems in Slanky where Doughty invokes spirits past and future to conjure a Seussian world of nonsensical mystery. "Japanese cowboys put their snowsuits on…"

Sad Man Happy Man takes Mike Doughty's trademarks and moves them to the next level; there are sounds instantly familiar - rhythms that immediately remind of previous songs, melodies that are furtherings of previous melodies, and nonsensical lyrics that draw the listener ever closer into the private world of M. Doughty. While his musical catalog is ever expanding, the sounds are so familiar and comfortable that there is no stepping out into a danger zone of any kind. There are only wonderfully dazzling little songs with catchy hooks and brilliant musicianship all sheltering the most wonderful lyrics that New York could possibly turn out.

-David DeVoe

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