Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Delicious and Nutritious (For The Ears)

I have had today marked on my calendar for a long time. Well, a few months anyway. Today, Mike Doughty finally released his anticipated fourth solo studio album Golden Delicious on ATO Records. Like any good fan, I awoke early and downloaded the album from the iTunes Music Store, and enjoyed a first listen on my iPhone on the way to work.

The Dan Wilson (he of Semisonic...thus answering the question of "Hey, whatever happened to them?") produced album strikes the upbeat tone indicative of Doughty's work to date. Since leaving Soul Coughing, the "neo-jazz" (which was a term, created by music journalists in the late '90s, to describe whatever the hell it was that band was concocting) ensemble which blazed a trail for later artists with albums as diverse and rich in music texture as Ruby Vroom and El Oso, and kicking a heroin addiction which had begun to consume his life and artistic talent, Doughty's work has gotten progressively more happy. As he settles into his middle thirties in his beloved Brooklyn, each of his albums, beginning with Skittish, right up to today's release, have sounded sunnier tones, if the subject matter is still, occasionally, depressive, bordering on morose. Still, "I Wrote a Song About Your Car" would not have been heard from a guy writing "Laundrytown" and "No Peace, Los Angeles" ten years ago.

Is this album Doughty's best effort to date? I believe so. And I like this album for the same reason I liked the movie Juno; it is delightfully uncomplicated. Songs like "Fort Hood" and "Book of Love" are surely thought-provoking, but they are, at the same time, 3 to 5 minute pop songs, bulwarked by Doughty's unassuming yet provocative and singular vocal work. Like Juno, it was a solid work bringing together excellent parts to paint a good story. Subtext and self-importance need not apply here. This album is not Synchronicity or Joshua Tree or even Before These Crowded Streets. But the album stands alone on its merit as a great collection of songs that together weave a story of its time and place, and set the stage for Doughty's solid work to continue for albums to come.

Definitely give an earnest listen to "Fort Hood," Doughty's homage to Iraq soldiers, both suffering and dead, who have not received the devotion and thanks from this country and its citizens for whom they have given so much. "You should still be getting stoned with a prom dress girl/You should still believe in an endless world/You should blast Young Jeezy with your friends in a parking lot" should not be as compelling a lyric as it is, and yet in this time and in this scenario, it rings a deep and profound truth.

And there is something strangely poetic about wanting the girl in the blue dress to keep on dancing. That's pure Doughty, as he said on last weekend's All Things Considered. Assessing the essence of the mess is his very own essence and his wheelhouse. And that's what makes "Blue Dress" the most likable song, along with Put It Down" and "Navigating by the Stars at Night" on this, Mike Doughty's latest slice-of-life vignette of the outskirts of Hipster America.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Best. Campaign Video. Ever.

"Words. Words when spoken out loud for the sake of performance are music. They have rhythm and pitch and timbre and volume. These are the properties of music and music has the ability to find us and move us and lift us up in ways that literal meaning can't." - Jed Bartlet

What strikes me in watching this video of the words of Sen. Obama's Iowa Victory Speech is the message wrapped into the rhythmic cadence of his inspiring oratorio. Here stands a man - with followers neatly in tow - not just asking us to believe in the promise of America again, not simply asking that we dream of the things that never were, but to put our hope into action. To do, as the last frames of the video suggest, to turn our hopes into votes. To work together, in this time of great trial as a nation, to make our nation whole, and united, and strong again. To believe in hope, yes, but moreover to be the change we seek in the world. It is only in hard work, in reconciliation, in trial and triumph that America will be great again.

Let us begin.

Recent Listenings By The Pink Polo