Mike Doughty, Sad Man Happy Man (ATO Records, 2009)

New York resident Mike Doughty has been something of an enigmatic figure. The former Soul Coughing singer/guitarist can be very good when he wants, to which plenty of songs on his 2005 CD Haughty Melodic can attest. Consistency is not one of his strengths, though. His 2008 album, Golden Delicious, was muddled and messy. He bounced back fairly quickly this past year, though, with a new album called Sad Man Happy Man that generally sees him back in good form.

For this album Doughty scaled back the arrangements a bit, focusing a bit more on his acoustic guitar. Most of the songs have bass and drums, and some feature a cello played by Doughty's long-time bassist Andrew "Scrap" Livingston, but that's mostly it. As usual, the lyrics tend towards spontaneity and stream-of-consciousness, often with allusions to other people's songs. His rap on "(He's Got The) Whole World (In His Hands)" typifies his style. But for some reason the style works considerably better this time around than it did on Golden Delicious. The song "(You Should Be) Doubly (Gratified)" is particularly strong, even if the title is a bit too parenthetical. Doughty's guitar playing has noticeably improved, too, and Doughty maintains a strong energy level throughout the album.

I suppose you could argue that Mike Doughty should take more time making his albums, focusing on his best songwriting ideas and letting them develop more fully while discarding the weaker ideas, and then his albums would be more consistently strong. That just doesn't seem to be how he operates, though. He is what he is, but sometimes that translates into some good music. Thankfully, Sad Man Happy Man has enough good music to justify the purchase.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

"(You Should Be) Doubly (Gratified)"

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