Music Reviews
Ghost of Vroom

Ghost of Vroom

Ghost of Vroom 3

Mod y Vi

Mike Doughty has a right to be exactly where he is now. With long-time collaborator Andrew “Scrap” Livingston and the pure percussion storm that is Madden Klass, we get to witness the firepower of his current project, Ghost of Vroom. Not since the Soul Coughing days have I heard him sound so free to experiment with joyful noise. A move to Memphis in 2015 was clearly a good choice creatively. It rubs off well on him and he graces that Mississippi River city with his deep appreciation for funk, soul, and the greats who paved the way before him. He is rooted in his urban neighborhood, no different than when he lived in NYC, getting gigs at local hubs like Otherlands Coffee Bar and meeting like-minded poets and musicians.

All of this vibe, this uniquely Memphis vibe, comes through on Ghost of Vroom 3. I saw him shortly after he moved to the South, and told him that Memphis looked good on him. He smiled appreciatively, but I don’t think the real soul of the city had taken up residence in his head yet. Now I am sure it has.

Ghost of Vroom 1 hinted at the shift that was coming. I picked it up immediately and hoped there would be more. Ghost of Vroom 2 rolled out as an equally compelling EP, but I still wanted more. Ghost of Vroom 3 is here and all is well with the world. Spoken word, jazz, funk, improvisation, and art-pop samples pepper the entire album, along with the signature plaintive vibe of “Yesterday in California,” so we don’t forget just how beautiful a songwriter Doughty is. This one reminds me of “Wednesday (no se apoye)” from 2008’s Golden Delicious. There’s a dub underpinning, but the song is the story. There is always a story with Mike. He tells it equally as well in the traditional song style as the “let’s push this button a few times and loop it” pearls that we get on Ghost of Vroom 3.

The album is playful and heady at the same time. Mike studied under African-American poet Sekou Sundiata at The New School in New York, an influence that permeates almost every project I’m familiar with, from the Soul Coughing years forward.

“Pay the Man” was released as a single and I immediately noticed indie radio loving on it. Frequently introduced as “Mike Doughty from Soul Coughing,” I wanted to reach through the speaker and beg the host to let him just be Mike Doughty. I feel protective of him, like a sister or friend who thinks he is still misunderstood. Andrew Livingston has been by his side for over a decade now. While other band personnel have come and gone, Livingston and now Klass are the jackpot for this “new old” sound that is Ghost of Vroom. Kudos to Mario Caldato, Jr. (Beastie Boys, Beck), for being the producer who hears what Doughty and his team have to offer and gives them the safe space to deliver.

“Still Getting It Done” has me trying to pinpoint that intro sample. As a Memphis kid, I hear a buried R&B radio soundtrack I grew up with, at least until we moved to Nashville, which flipped the music switch entirely. I’m still digging this one on repeat, and craving a Midtown barbecue sandwich.

“As the Kid Goes For Broke” is a spacey trip with Klass holding the beat under staccato strings. Here comes Doughty with the spoken word over it all between short chorus injections. A perfect storm.

Tracks like “Reign of the Hummingbird” are the sonic playground that comes off on recording equally as well as live. Get some headphones out for this one. Experimental, subjective, a bit mysterious, changing directions, and hovering in front of your face like, well, a hummingbird.

The same vibe hits on “Raincheck Jones” where all of Mike’s living room improvisation, often shared with his Patreon supporters in demo form, pops out like a Jack in the Box clown — the one you expect with each crank, but are always pleasantly jolted by.

Another favorite is “Slipping Off Your Wrist,” where we get to return to that funk-meets-sample-meets-beat-poet-trampoline and bounce like a kid with no curfew. It’s joyful, simple, and dancey as hell. On “I Had to Do It,” listen closely to Andrew Livingston let loose on strings, while Klass brings her “I mean it!” percussion. The song title gets group-shouted between Doughty’s signature spoken and sung poetry, complete with nonsensical phrasing that makes perfect sense, at least to me.

The knockout punch is “Stalagmite,” rock formations and clusters of beat and wordplay coming from all directions here, punctuated with “I dig it you dig it I dig it you dig it… “

I dig it!

Mike Doughty


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