It makes perfect sense that an album of covers performed by Mike Doughty would sound like an album of originals performed by Mike Doughty, regardless of the source material. Doughty is an artist so apparently comfortable in his own skin of late that you almost know what his album will sound like before you start listening to it, and if you’re a fan of his, you don’t care, because it’s in the specifics that he shines. A clever turn of phrase, the way he twists one melody on top of another, an acoustic guitar line that just fits. Doughty as a solo artist is a master of the singer-songwriter craft in as pure a way as modern music has to offer right now.
This is to say that to hear Doughty rapping verses in between familiar choruses sounds perfectly natural. This is what he does, and even on an album where his songwriting is not the focus, he cannot help but sound uniquely himself.
The Flip is Another Honey opens with a sampled John Denver, as Doughty turns “Sunshine on My Shoulders” into, merely, “Sunshine”, as he raps a couple of laid back verses (choice line: “She’s not a lush, she’s a juniper enthusiast”) in between layer upon layer of samples of John Denver’s simple little chorus. As if to apologize for turning one hit inside out, Doughty later comes back to Mr. Denver, this time offering a faithful and convincing “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. That anyone can sing this song today and have it come off as anything other than parody is an impressive feat; Doughty actually makes you want to go back and pull out your dad’s old dusty LP copy of Poems, Prayers, and Promises.
Other highlights include “Ta Douleur”, a wonderful cover of a fantastic Camille song that does justice to the almost a cappella original while not succumbing to the temptation of a cappella mimicry (though Doughty does sing it in the original French!), and “Tightrope”, another track that features some original spoken word on the verses while borrowing the Stone Roses song for the choruses. Even the one track that feels more like homage than appropriation, Randy Newman’s “Mankind”, is done with skill and sensitivity; Doughty knows when to let the song, and not his vision, do the talking.
There’s only one place where Doughty really sounds out of his element, and that’s when he ventures into the realm of showtunes. “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” is indeed the famous Guys and Dolls tune, and Doughty’s cover is a cute curiosity, at least until the end when he comes completely unhinged and starts screaming. It’s an impressive display of catharsis. It’s also out of character for a largely mellow album. It seems like something better suited to an odds ‘n sods EP than an album that is already, at 15 tracks, pretty long.
Still, this is a nitpick. The Flip is Another Honey is less a “covers album” than “another Mike Doughty album”. It’s a mellow trip through his influences, heroes, and interests, and he can’t help but offer a few of his own thoughts on the way. If anything he’s done in the last 15 years or so has appealed to you, you won’t be able to help but find something to enjoy here.