Sunday, June 29, 2014

Further Thoughts About Band-Dom and Mike Doughty

Having caught up to “Circles” by Mike Doughty, mentioned in a previous blog entry, I’m very much wondering why he chose to revisit his Soul Coughing songs in the way he did here. If I were reviewing the album, I’d only give it about one star out of five. Most of the revised versions find Doughty delivering the words with less feeling and more by rote than he did on the originals, and the backing music used is more monotonous and lacks the nuance that his old bandmates, however much he despises them, provided.

Just two tracks here really do anything different or worthwhile, and those are the songs “Mr. Bitterness” and “St. Louise Is Listening.” The former makes the song something different and more mysterious with an acoustic guitar treatment, and the latter cranks up the intensity with Doughty’s vocal, which adds a portentous tone different than the original.

The new version of “Super Bon Bon,” the song that first turned me on to Soul Coughing, is really disappointing, wrecked utterly by a needless and unnecessary chattering background vocal effect that Doughty has added here – even without that and/or without the original arrangement, this version would still seem flat.

I like both Soul Coughing and Doughty’s solo work, but Doughty said in his memoir “The Book of Drugs” and elsewhere that the Soul Coughing recordings aren’t how he envisioned those songs as the main author of them. If that’s so, and this is how he imagined the sound of these songs, then he really gained something better from those collaborators, even if they never got along.

It’s possible these versions could somehow grow on me over time – the enunciation of the words is in some cases clearer – but that alone isn’t enough, and sometimes overall sound and production is more important to great music. It’s not like Doughty can’t or doesn’t do that in his solo work – check out a short track like “More Bacon Than The Pan Can Handle” or for that matter, “Golden Delicious,” the album it’s on. It just appears that in revisiting the Soul Coughing songs he couldn’t help but let his conflicted feelings about that time hamper the work. There are countless creative things he could have done with those songs that weren’t attempted.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Michael Che: A Must See

Michael Che, the newest Daily Show correspondent, has also done an episode of Comedy Central's showcase series "The Half Hour" that I can say is well worth catching, even just on the basis of having seen the short highlights version available here for non-subscribers (or for streaming purchase here).

Just to quickly give an example of the imagination Che has in his material -- he mentions the US debt to China, and says "I don't owe China billions of dollars. I owe Sprint $90. So you must be doing a lot of roaming, or something..."

In just a few segments so far on the Daily Show, Che is already also making his mark, especially in a piece he did with Jordan Klepper satirizing the recent campaign by gun nuts carrying in public, which can be seen in full here.

So, with his debut splash on Comedy Central and getting started as a Daily Show correspondent, Michael Che is clearly a comedian to watch.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Finding The Science of Band-dom (With Apologies to Mike Doughty)

Two groups and singers that I've been a big fan of over the years are Live, which was fronted by Ed Kowalczyk and Soul Coughing, fronted by Mike Doughty.

Both frontmen departed in a fracturing with their bandmates. Doughty broke up the group after a three-album run through the late 1990s while Live had a much longer run and sold more albums than Soul Coughing. In both cases however, the singers were outsiders who joined with three bandmates who already knew each other and were playing together. (Details can be found in Doughty’s autobiography The Book of Drugs, to which this blog entry is indebted.) 

So the question and the point of this blog entry is whether the output when these singers when with their bands was greater than they have managed solo. Anything is going to be matter of taste, certainly – and the fracturing of the music industry right around or before the time both singers ended up becoming solo artists did not help their causes. Once Doughty and Kowalczyk went solo, however, they lost the organically connected bands that gave their songs an extra something, however disconnected these singers may have been personally from their bandmates.

Kowalczyk began his solo career five years ago. It's evident now that all the lyrical and songwriting inspiration of Live was all him, and he still is coming up with great songs like “The Garden” in 2012 and “Seven” in 2013. If these also had the music business promotion behind them that he enjoyed with Live, they would have been huge “Throwing Copper” size hits.

Doughty has been solo much longer, since about 2000, and has gone with a semi acoustic style without the hip-hop inflections his Soul Coughing bandmates provided. Without those though, a bit of the propulsion his music had sometimes is missing. However, I am a bit behind on his recent work, and more than 10 years after Soul Coughing broke up, he’s revisited his favorite songs from those ays on a new album [provisionally titled “Circles,” but really titled with all the names of all 13 tracks] more in keeping with his style as a solo artist, which will be interesting to hear. Maybe a follow-up blog entry in store…

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Comedy Books Roundup

Each year, the Blog drops into BookExpo America (BEA), the publishing industry’s annual trade show, to keep an eye out for books about or related to comedy.

A few better known personalities have books coming out in the fall, that were already being promoted to booksellers at the show, namely Norman Lear, Neil Patrick Harris and B.J. Novak. Norman Lear, the creator of “All In The Family” (which the Blog has been enjoying recently, catching episodes never seen or remembered…), now 91 years old, will be publishing “Even This I Get to Experience,” an autobiography that will include accounts of how he created that and other classic TV sitcoms.
Neil Patrick Harris of “How I Met Your Mother” and myriad awards show hosting jobs, was on hand to promote “Choose Your Own Autobiography,” also planned for October, in which he will have fun with the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” format books to tell his own life story.

In addition, B.J. Novak of “The Office” was on hand promoting “The Book with No Pictures,” a children’s book that is a follow-up to One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories,” his collection of short fictional comedic stories, published back in February, in the style of Woody Allen or Albert Brooks.
But celebrities aren’t the only authors of note, of course. Rainbow Rowell, an author previously unfamiliar to the Blog, had attracted a long line of attendees to her signing of her next novel, “Landline.” Her novels, while dramatic, are laced through with comedic aspects.

Also of interest for coming months, and spotted at the show, was “Best to Laugh,” by Lorna Landvik, a comedic Hollywood novel that is populated with quirky characters similar to those created by Janet Evanovich in the mystery genre.
You may order or pre-order any of the titles noted above on Amazon through the links on the titles.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

High Points and the Overlooked

I don’t always get to everything that I might review on Jester, or want to review. Certainly, there have been some great hours of stand-up released as albums, as HBO specials, or otherwise, that for lack of time over the past year or more, I haven’t highlighted on Jester.

Thinking about what was missed that may or did rise to the level of Aziz Ansari’s 2010special, “Intimate Moments For A Sensual Evening,” or further back, to Dave Attell’s now-classic album “Skanks for the Memories” from 2003, a few specials come to mind. In the past year, Sarah Silverman’s “We Are Miracles” special (for HBO) was an especially good piece of work that had previously escaped my attention. Aside from new plays on acting innocent or na├»ve while saying very transgressive things, Silverman closes the special with a greatly outrageous song, that would have been passed around underground in the days before online media proliferation.

Stretching back even further, over the past five years or more, there have been some HBO hours that have stood the test of time so far as being great. Ricky Gervais’ “Out of England,” from 2008, is one of these, from its delightfully ridiculous opening where Gervais takes the stage to a bombastic Queen song with big lights spelling out “RICKY” behind him on the stag, to the piece where he reads verbatim suggestions from a 1980s public service postcard encouraging gay men to practice safe sex, all couched as “Why not …” try this or that ridiculous action, like coming out an open window.

Also, looking back over specials that I have reviewed in the past year or more, certain ones stand out as having had great work in them, or especially memorable and quotable moments. Liam McEneaney’s “Comedian” has too many of these to start quoting or choosing any single one, but his story of an inept friend trying to rob a bank in the South Bronx certainly is a stand-out. Smaller classic moments include Pete Holmes’ bit about delight with homophones (soundalike words), “Pierce!!!/Juan!!!” in his special “Nice Try, The Devil,” and Kyle Kinane’s story in his “Whiskey Icarus” special about sitting next to a guy on a flight next to him who had brought a trash bag full of pancakes to eat on the journey.

I just bring all of these up, both previously reviewed and un-reviewed, as examples of what I would want to say if asked what stand-up specials I really thought were the cream of the crop in recent years.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Huffman Koos: Fraudsters extraordinaire, who don't even know the meaning of customer service

Here is the complete story & sets of FB posts. Please re-post to Huffman Koos FB page at and on their Twitter handle: @HuffmanKoos (will provide short bit link to do soon...)

From 20 hours ago (night of Dec. 31):

This is the beginning of the story that happened last night (as told to the company on their FB page, and still they are playing games with me): ...

I hope it's a Happy New Year's Eve for you, because it certainly isn't one for me, as our furniture delivery that was scheduled for between 11 am-3 pm today STILL hasn't shown up and no one there is making any visible effort to find out...

This quote on your website is such a JOKE: We strive to give customers the best possible experience they can have when purchasing furniture. ... Well you have given me the worst possible experience I could have had. Now we have to spend our New Year's Eve dealing with these IDIOTS!!! I recommend anyone reading this never do business with them.

Update from today (Jan. 1, 2014):

Huffman Koos furniture. A fraudulent enterprise. To continue the story I started posting last night, they finally arrived with the furniture 4 1/2 hours AFTER scheduled delivery window of 11 am-3 pm. Then ran off with my keys and are being slow and uncooperative about returning them. Also read this for background on their CEO, who was convicted of fraud, and somehow is STILL their CEO (as confirmed by one of their employees who I asked within the past hour)!!! Unbelievable.

For more details, read here: