Over 15 years into his solo career, the former leader of Soul Coughing offers his first album from Memphis, Tennessee, where he relocated after calling New York home for over 25 years. On The Heart Watches While the Brain Burns -- named for a remark by Marc Maron on his WTF podcast about trying to give up nicotine -- Mike Doughty continues a three-LP collaboration with New York producer Good Goose (Richard Rusincovitch). Unlike his previous album, but still arranged for a full band, Doughty, Rusincovitch, and drummer Pete Wilhoit (Fiction Plane) provide all of the performances. Along with guest MCs, gone too is the notable hip-hop presence on 2014's Stellar Motel. What remains is Doughty's free-spirited and distinctively loquacious singer/songwriter rock. He still plays with a variety of beats here, such as the Eritrean cadence on "Brian" that he picked up from an African nightclub. The song wrangles the African element, electronics, the singer's gritty timbre in a similarly rhythmic vocal line, and guitars that provide a more relaxed, country-bar vibe. "You Could Fly" is a harder rocker with stylized drums and distortion, while "Sad Girl Walking in the Rain" is an unexpectedly bright portrait with a reggae groove. Still full of angst with a certain amount of bite, he's pretty earnest on songs like "Otherlands" and "I Can't Believe I Found You in That Town," the latter about a mishandled romantic encounter ("My days, they were so easy 'til I kissed you in that door"). Whether it be the influence of age, Memphis, or a musical phase, The Heart Watches While the Brain Burns finds a relatively more mature and steady Doughty, both in sound and tone, and it suits his often world-weary observational sketches.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson