Paul Dougherty – Monumental
Bake it Black Records, May 2018
14 tracks, 65:18
Born in Houston, Paul Dougherty grew up in Nashville and played music throughout the region in indie pop to Americana and roots groups. His influences include Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, and Van Morrison, as well as punk groups such as Joy Division and the Flaming Lips. Paul moved to Berlin in 1989, where he witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and was a busker to earn money during his stay.
In the Summer of 1990, after becoming stranded in Berlin, Dougherty made his way back to Nashville, where he eventually started the avant garde indie pop band Chilhowie, a band that often included the impersonator Psycho Elvis. In 2000, Dougherty formed The Uninsurables, an Americana group that was a big hit on the Nashville circuit. In 2002, they recorded the live CD Keep the Feet On, gathering positive reviews in the region.
Later in 2002, Dougherty moved to Germany with his wife. Since then, he has played around Germany and in parts of Europe, recording a variety of albums for Bake It Black Records in Munich, including the acclaimed roots CD Grace Under Water, which spent a month on the Roots Music Report Folk Charts, the indie pop recordings Beeswax, I’m Only in It for the Money and the retrospective Evensong.
Monumental is a collection of songs originally written and recorded by his late father, Tommy Dougherty, a noted Hammond organ player and Nashville studio artist who made several records from the 70s through the 90s. Tommy Dougherty was born in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1941 and played the Houston club scene starting in the late 1950s as a singer and Hammond organ player. He was heavily influenced by Ray Charles and the great organist Jimmy Smith. Dougherty played soul music in Houston during the ’60s prior to moving to Nashville in ’72. There, he sang and recorded in the clubs and studios around Music City, USA, often supplementing his gig income by singing in commercials and performing as a “sound-alike,” to mimic popular performers. Nonetheless, his soulful recordings of his own compositions stand out the most. Tommy Dougherty passed away in 2017, at the age of 76.
Monumental contains 14 tracks written by the elder Dougherty (one track, Together We Shine, was co-written by Tommy Dougherty and Michael Foster), and performed by son Paul Dougherty, who also engineered this collection and “played” all the instruments. That said, many of the “instruments” appear to be synthesized sounds, played on a keyboard. And, unfortunately, the overproduction of several numbers – particularly with the addition of synth horns and overplayed drum tracks – tends to offset the classic simplicity of the songs themselves. Pro Tip: Just because your keyboard has synth sounds for other instruments doesn’t mean you should actually use them.
It’s unfortunate, because in tracking-down some of Paul Dougherty’s other CDs and recordings (he’s released 11 other CDs), it’s obvious that he’s got chops for both songwriting and performing. For example, his 2014 collection, River Pearl, has some great songs on it; but even there, his tendency for overproduction undercuts the power of the songwriting itself. And his chops are similarly obscured on this collection of listenable, bluesy pop songs, songs that might have felt right at home in smoky nightclubs during the late 50s through the early 70s.
All of the songs are very good, and to this listener, the standout tracks tend to be those which are a bit more stripped-down, production-wise, such as the torchy ballads “Stars Above,” “Cowgirl Song” (featuring Paul Hilton on pedal steel), “Still in Love with You,” and “Mexico Beaches.” On some of the other tracks, extraneous instrumentation and vocal over-processing tend to diminish the integrity of the songs themselves. Compare the younger Dougherty’s version of “Little Damn Dog” with his father’s original version, and you’ll hear for yourself why simpler is better.
Bottom line? Tommy Dougherty was an accomplished songwriter and organist, whose recordings have a very comfortable, broken-in feel, almost like you’ve heard them many times before. His featured songs on this collection are, for the most part, very good indeed. But they’ve been overproduced with unnecessary – and often poorly conceived and/or executed – instrumentation. If you really want to hear them in all their glory, I suggest you track down the original recordings, as these versions are too haphazardly overproduced – and performed – to really do them justice. Many of the tracks on this collection can be found on Tommy Dougherty’s Still Got Wings album, released in 1998. You can sample it here: http://www.tommydougherty.com/music/still-got-wings/.