- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

There's so much to enjoy during a solo performance by Mike Doughty, the singer-songwriter-poet who fronted Soul Coughing, one of the '90s' most inventive bands.
He has perfected a relaxed stage presence and tells hilarious between-song stories splashed with pop-culture references. And there's his knack for playfully sneaking lyrics or melodies from schmaltzy Top 40 tunes into his own songs.
But the most satisfying element of the show, the part that lingers after the laughter from Mr. Doughty's jokes has faded, is how well Soul Coughing's rock, hip-hop and drum 'n' bass-inspired compositions fare with only vocals and an acoustic guitar. Stripped of the accompanying jazzy drumming, plump stand-up bass and quirky samples, the songs exhibit a memorable, vibrant core and reaffirm the twisted pleasure of Mr. Doughty's surreal lyrical sensibility.
He captures one of his shows on a new CD, "Smofe + Smang: Live in Minneapolis." The CD borrows its title from two of the "203 Fake Words" posted on Mr. Doughty's Web site, www.superspecialquestions.com, which serves as a gathering point for fans. It's also a retail outlet for his independently released CDs and a re-published version of his book of poetry from 1995, "Slanky."
Mr. Doughty says the 25-track disc, recorded in February, presents his "schtick" in a live setting: a mix of new songs, stories, Soul Coughing material and numbers from a solo CD, "Skittish." He'll bring his electric guitar when he performs tomorrow night at Catholic University's DuFour Center as the opener for Rusted Root.
"I decided I want to be loud" on this fall road trip, he says during a telephone interview.
Mr. Doughty cherishes the freedom to record and tour based on his own schedule rather than face a timetable dictated by a record label. After suffering through Soul Coughing's final days because of a disintegrating relationship with his band mates, Mr. Doughty purged the heroin from his veins two years ago and set off on a solo career.
"I'm really enjoying this right now," he says. The lifestyle of a solo artist "is just incredibly simple. It's great fun just setting out in a car by myself."
His managers suggest that he form a new band, but the dynamic of a group doesn't appeal to him. "Generally, being in a band is only simple if you totally let go of everything and get drunk all the time and show up for the gig," he says. As a solo artist, "I feel really present in the world when I do it like this."
There are those moments when a lavish project bubbles up in his mind, but the initial burst of inspiration hasn't yet led to a finished project. His brain races with wild ideas, such as writing an album for diva Diana Ross. "I often try and fool myself into writing a song or two," he says. One project that's nearing completion is a soundtrack for an independent film called "EvenHand."
Mr. Doughty has begun pre-production work on a studio album. He's "not very far along" yet, but he hopes to release the disc in spring 2003.
"Eventually I'm going to have a label," Mr. Doughty says. "I kind of like keeping things on the downlow for the moment."

The Isaac Hayes brand keeps expanding. Mr. Hayes, an inductee in March to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, remains a passionate advocate for human rights and launched a foundation in May 1999. Two years later, he brought his love of cooking to a new enterprise, the opening of the first Isaac Hayes Music, Food, Passion restaurant.
The strapping singer, whose work in the '60s and '70s helped define the Memphis soul sound, endeared himself to a new generation by portraying the cafeteria chef who dispenses equal portions of sage advice and whipped potatoes to the foul-mouthed youngsters of TV's "South Park."
Most fans of the animated cable comedy and feature film weren't alive to witness one of Mr. Hayes' most memorable declarations as an artist. During concert performances in the 1970s, he wrapped himself in chains to recast the image of a black man in shackles as a symbol of slavery and oppression to one of power, pride and overt sexuality.
Mr. Hayes, who celebrated his 60th birthday last month with a celebrity bash in Memphis, visits the Birchmere tonight as part of a six-date tour. It's an opportunity to see a legend whose body of work includes one of modern music's most recognizable anthems. The sizzling high-hat and scratch guitar that open 1971's "Theme from 'Shaft'" represent not only a film, but an era of emerging black power.

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