Mike Doughty

The intellectual

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By Gary Graff  

Mike Doughty is one of those brainy songwriting cats. He doesn't try to be too smart for the room. But he's got such a powerful intellect, he can't really help it if it comes out that way sometimes.

Fortunately the former Soul Coughing frontman is also a first-rate tunesmith, and the combination of intellect and harmonic irresistibility makes the wryly titled Haughty Melodic a first-rate singer-songwriter effort that gets better with every listen. It marks Doughty's first full-band outing since Soul Coughing split up in 2000, and he's chosen his partners wisely -- including producer Dan Wilson of Semisonic, Dave Matthews (Doughty's duet partner on the good-humored waltz, "Tremendous Brunettes"), N.E.R.D. drummer Eric Fawcett, and the well-credentialed cellist Jan Scarpantoni, whose melancholy drone brings an underlying spirit to the blend.

Doughty offers plenty of sharp social commentary in songs such as "Busting Up a Starbucks," "White Lexus," "American Car" and "Looking at the World From the Bottom of a Well," although with at least a hint of hopefulness -- "When your faith in life is gone/Come and speak to me" he offers in the rustic "Your Misfortune."

Sharp arrangements abound throughout the album's dozen tracks, marked by hypnotic grooves and mood shifts that are best accomplished on tracks like "I Hear the Bells" and "Unsingable Name." With musical results this winning, Doughty does have every right to feel at least a little haughty.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.