Twin Cities singer-songwriter Pat Dougherty is a fairly busy fella. He’s booked solid through Fall hitting Chicago, New York City, and a Midwest tour of virtually back-to-back dates in November. This in support of The Second-Hand Opera Presents Pat Dougherty—Love Stories and Picture Shows (Keep In Touch Records). It’s a 10-song CD for which Dougherty (guitar) enlists the aid of Dave Afdahl (piano), Joe Finstrom (bass, cello), Andy Myers (drums, timpani), and Tim Binger (cello) with a chorus comprising of Dougherty, Binger, Finstrom, Myers, John Peters, and Kate Wiltgen, recorded “on location” at the St. Paul Opera House.
He is not an artist particularly concerned with squeezing every nickel and dime he can from sales to listeners. In fact, he’s got in the liner notes an invitation that after enjoying Love Stories and Picture Shows, you “burn this for a friend.” And included is a spanking, fresh blank CD so you can do exactly that. Thought clearly went into the packaging: it’s kind of a fold-out affair with a homemade-looking booklet containing the lyrics, overall having a nice second-handish touch to it.
It’s not all window dressing. There are well-written songs and, for the most part, interesting arrangements. “Just Fine,” for instance, starts with quietly acoustic verses that swell to fully fleshed out, dramatic highlights. “Frankie Last Year” contrasts energized rock against a delicate folk sound. Here and there on the album is a taste of avant-garde fare. Throughout, Dougherty’s lyrics border on existential poetry, the most effective effort a grim, disquieting song about suicide. “Plateus” troubles the mind: “I’m standing on the highest of manmade plateaus/ My soul is crushed by spiritual glass ceilings/ My bags are pack/ And I left notes/ I tried to call God collect the other day/ He didn’t pick up and I know why/ Falling as the wind kisses my face/ I begin to wonder will I feeling anything at all.”
The problem is Pat Dougherty’s voice is wispy, whiny at times, and generally of little interest. It’s isn’t that he can’t sing. When he rares back to reach for power, he nails it, emoting with angst-fueled presence. Which doesn’t happen nearly enough. Would that the soft moments, making up most of the music, had a bit of body to them. Instead, they come off basically as someone pretty much mumbling to himself in self-pity.
All said, it’s great packaging for an established and capable artist whose performance is somewhat lacking.