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Published: 2004/12/31
by Pat Buzby

Skittish/Rockity Roll EP – Mike Doughty

ATO Records 0023

Do not let it be said that Mike Doughty has had an easy life. A NYC beat poet with acoustic guitar in tow, he's been around, and there's important information in both what's present in Skittish/Rockity Roll and what’s absent.

This hour-long twofer documents a series of Doughtys steps away from phase one of his music career. That phase, of course, centered on the busy, major-label-sponsored white hip-hop of Soul Coughing. Skittish, a 1996 side trip originally relegated to the outtake bin, inadvertently launched Doughty’s post-SC career as a solo troubadour, while 2003’s Rockity Roll shows Doughty settled into his new set of boots.

The drum machine-accompanied Rockity Roll is the more polished, radio-ready effort (check out "27 Jennifers," its skewed nature only enhancing its love song viability). However, Skittish is more the sort of work to launch a cult. Songs like "The Pink Life" and "Rising Sign" are a cry from a more honest place than one might have ever expected the urbane frontman to reveal, and knowledge of his personal ups and downs fuels interest in lines like "I’d like to drink the fuel straight from your lighter…I resent the way you make me like myself." Rockity Roll also penetrates the most when Doughty abandons the danceable beats and writes of being "40 Grand in the Hole," asking, "When will someone be mine?"

The acoustic Doughty comes off like the middle ground between Dave Matthews, his new label boss, and Ani DiFranco. He's not quite as pop-savvy as Mr. "Don't Drink the [Chicago] Water" or as persistently in-your-face as the Righteous Babe, but he has his own brand of vocal grain and string-snapping attack. A track that sticks in the head is his Skittish cover of Mary Blige’s "Real Love," which suggests that his current pursuit of greener pop pastures is as natural a direction as any.

Skittish/Rockity Roll is a series of steps in Doughty’s journey rather than an arrival. It leaves one waiting for a full-blown, band-enhanced realization — compare the two band bonus cuts from Bonnaroo ’04 (which, incidentally, represent another installment in the "When Critics Perform" extravaganza as Salon’s Thomas Bartlett backs Doughty on electric piano) with Soul Coughing and you’ll remember that lack of tension can lead to lack of excitement. A journey it is, though, and it’s one that Doughty is traveling with a good deal of talent and experience stashed in his car’s trunk.

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