Playbill

"A stark musical setting" is how Mike Doughty describes the framework of his solo career, launched less than a year after the breakup of his band Soul Coughing. Since then, he has already logged three tours, all acoustic, all by himself. Doughty has been his own accompaniment, tour manager, driver and merchandise salesman. It's a big switch from the days of multiple-truck tours. With his current monthlong tour, he's taking a rental car cross-country. He likes it this way, winding along the lonely highways. "I've really fallen in love with driving," Doughty explains via his cell phone from a New York diner, over the ministrations of a nearby screaming baby.

The structure of a Soul Coughing tune can be complex, layered with samples and turbulent rhythms, a mix of free verse, spoken word and danceable bass-driven music. It was a form both urban and artistic, one devised during Doughty's days working as a doorman at New York's Knitting Factory. Though he has stripped his music to voice and acoustic guitar only, a style he refers to as "small rock," the new works are "pretty much the same vibe" as what we've been hearing. It's a return to his roots. "It's what I was doing before I was in a band. It's natural for me."

Expect to hear a 50-50 blend of Soul Coughing numbers and solo compositions, including songs from his solo recording, Skittish. New titles to listen for include "40 Grand in the Hole," and "Busting Up a Starbucks." Though the name of that latter ditty may sound anti-corporate coffee, one should consider that when traveling as much as Doughty has, the consistency of an institution like Starbucks provides a welcome constant in a sea of variables. "I get a cheer from the eco crowd when I announce it, but I'm not really sure it's necessarily an anti-Starbucks anthem."

In addition to his solo work, his presence is recognizable on BT's "Never Gonna Come Back Down." He also recorded a couple of tracks with They Might Be Giants. Then there are his music columns for the New York Press, his bulletin board (www.superspecialquestions.com) and his book of poetry, Slanky, published by Soft Skull. Strangely enough, he's even putting a Laotian monk named Andy through college. (Long story.) "That's just me. I'm work-oriented. I don't work particularly hard, I'm not a workaholic. [But] I prefer to be doing something."

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Eric A.T. Dieckman