(Bake It Black Records, 2014)
'See Teddy the wrestling bear' says the sign in front of the fairground attraction. A pelican sits on a pole and the man behind the cashier stand (5 cents entrance) drinks root beer from a glass bottle. Uhm, wait - this man might be Paul Dougherty? This is a CD-cover after all... No, he isn't. This is an actual old color photograph from 1941 by Jack Delano. The picture on the back looks even better: vintage black cars in a field, everything covered in that thin layer of early morning frost.
Then who is Paul Dougherty? According to his bio an American living in Munich, Germany. Born in Houston, he grew up in Nashville and played music throughout the region in various indie pop and roots groups. His influences include Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Van Morrison, plus bands such as Joy Division and the Flaming Lips. He also played in clubs with his father's band : Tommy Dougherty, a blues and soul musician, Hammond organ player and Nashville session singer.
After school Paul moved temporarily to Berlin in 1989. He witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and was a busker to earn money during his stay. He started a punk band in Berlin called American Cheese Whiz and toured shortly, opening for the legendary Einstürzende Neubauten.
After getting stranded in Berlin, in the summer of 1990 he made his way back to Nashville, where he eventually started the avant garde indie pop band Chilhowie, a band which often included the impersonator Psycho Elvis. In 2000 Paul Dougherty began the Americana group The Uninsurables, a big hit on the Nashville circuit. In 2002, they recorded the live CD 'Keep The Feet On' which gathered rave reviews in the region.
Later in 2002, Paul moved to Germany with his wife. Since then, he has played around Germany and other parts of Europe, recording a variety of albums with the label Bake It Black Records in Munich, including the acclaimed roots CD 'Grace Under Water' (2009), the indie pop recordings 'Beeswax' (2013), 'I’m Only In It For The Money' (2010) and the retrospective - twenty best songs of his then twenty-five year long career 'Evensong' (2012), to mention a few.
This doesn't surprise me, from a person who appreciates Jack Delano's work: Paul Dougherty is also a photographer who works with digital photography and various analog and alternative processes, such as lith photography (an exquisite process using lith developers), cyanotypes (one of the first photographic processes invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842), liquid emulsion, Gum bichromates (a multi print process using gum arabica and water colors), Tempera photography (similar to Gum bichromates but with egg!) and more. In addition he’s an oil painter and writer.
Now we know all of this, let's listen to the record!
1. "Rock Me To The Bone": Speaking of an opening track that's kicking off an album! A Fabulous Thunderbirds type of stormy blues rock song. Good showcase for Paul's talents as an electric guitar player.
2. "River Pearl": Something completely different! The title track is a long (7min23sec) epic folk ballad with a somewhat shy mandolin, an uncredited female background vocal - which actually is Paul's falsetto singing and a gritty story line about the Civil War. This makes me think of The Coal Porters.
3. "Honeysuckle": Romantic old-fashioned folk rock, with a touch of blue-eyed soul, thanks to Ian East's beautiful saxophone.
4. "Eve Of Destruction": Swamp rock with a blues flavor, great electric guitar solos and harmonica. The end of times, the 'Beast' and several references to political and religious subjects - exactly what we could expect from the lyrics!
5. "Teddy The Dancing Bear": I love titles like this! An acoustic country song with a very nice, catchy rhythm. Easy to dance to for Teddy! A bit of melancholy and a lot of good memories - back then it was still a big event when the circus came to town!
6. "Cain": Loosely inspired by the story from the Bible. Sounds like a song from the early days of the altcountry movement, with nice layers of guitar, keys and background vocals, but the mandolin peeks around the corner too.
7. "Doin' The Time": Ah, harmonica! Another blues track, rough and dirty, this sounds a bit like The Animals and similar bands from the late sixties.
8. "How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love The NSA": Excuse me? A title with a wink, but how did Paul get to the subject of cloning Joseph McCarthy's DNA? Again, only Sid Griffin and his Coal Porters could do something like this! Political folk with a touch of bluegrass in a Dylanesque ballad, Paul speak/sings the verses with an upbeat little chorus.
9. "Time": This is a long, rather traditional country ballad. Paul Hilton joins Paul on pedal steel. 'When they disappear like a Polaroid in the sea', I like that.
10. "Black Cat Bone": Straight forward rockabilly. 'She's a voodoo child, with a bag and a black cat bone'. Great harmonica solo!
11. "The Devil's Spine": Dark and ominous, slightly creepy Halloween blues. "Sleeping in the rail yard, from there I call your name". Did I just see a shadow move, there in that far corner? Better switch on the lamp!
12. "Memphis Son": Paul makes up in full for scaring us - with this light-hearted, catchy country-rocker! He sounds a bit hoarse here. Never mind, this is my favorite song on the record! "Driving out of town, chasing down the ghost of Elvis".
13. "Rusted Jesus": A mournful ballad with piano to close off the album. "Jesus, where are you now?"
The new album was recorded in Munich, Germany. It moves easily and seemingly effortless through the various styles. Paul is a good and experienced singer, who can pull it all off! We hear traces of his influences, as mentioned in his bio and I would also include Guy Clark and Muddy Waters, but that never interferes with his own ideas. He has a rich enough imagination to come up with interesting song subjects and cleverly constructed lyrics. Never a dull moment!
Written by Johanna J. Bodde - September 28th, 2014.