Bob Dorough Endures

Pluck Your Magic Twanger, Froggy

But after giggling at Dorough's craggy swoops and idiosyncratic melodies, which have Escher-like loops, I was invariably brought up short by "Winter Moon" or "Lazy Afternoon," both mined for much unexpected emotion. He can interpret a lyric as though it were an anecdote. When he goes into bopping swingers, he seems almost indifferent to how much energy he can generate. The whole effect has freaked many, and he has endured some of the most scathing reviews I've ever read. It's not just because he spent so much time writing songs explaining multiplication that Dorough is only infrequently booked in the nightclubs he once hoped to make his habitat. In his notes to his 1997 Blue Note album, Right on My Way Home, he gives as one of his ambitions "to sing you a song and have you not walk out on me."

Had I known Schoolhouse Rock, I'd have been hipper sooner. What finally convinced me he was totally in on the joke was his indispensable self-produced 1990 album entitled This Is A Recording of Pop Art Songs By Bob Dorough and friends produced and copyright by Scharf/Dorough for distribution on their label, Laissez-Faire Records. The songs combine classical, jazz, and pop settings with found lyrics: He sings, verbatim and with no embellishments, a weather report, a collection letter, a recipe for apple pie, a draft card notice, a social security card, Webster's definitions of love, and three particular favorites—a laundry ticket ("Not Responsible for Shrink"), airline passenger instructions ("Should the Need Arise"), and an upholstery label ("Do Not Remove This Tag"). At no time does he even hint that any of this is funny.

Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here.
photo: Joanne Savio
Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here.

Dorough's new album, which he is promoting this week in a rare appearance at Deanna's (an attractive room on Rivington), opens like a house afire with "The Coffee Song." His jumping recitation is as serious as, say, "A Plea of Guilty" (his traffic ticket song), complete with the aside "thought I told you" when the lyric is repeated. One big reason the record roars is the presence of Phil Woods. Too bad he's only on four tracks, but he is inspired on all of them, including a new version of "I've Got Just About Everything." Dorough's more recent pieces include a dedication to his wife, "Wake Up Sally, It's Saturday," constructed to resolve on a froggy two-note ribit phrase; a solo meditation, "Yesterday, I Made Your Breakfast"; and the heavily caffeinated title number, "Too Much Coffee Man." Best of all, though, is a performance of "Fish for Supper," by Cootie Williams, though I don't think he ever recorded it, with Woods, Ray Drummond, and Billy Hart. The lyric goes, "We got fish for suppah, first one thing then anothah," and damned if Dorough doesn't make it rhyme; after a very smooth piano solo, he and Woods interject Tadd Dameron's "Good Bait." The nerd of yesteryear is one of the last hipsters standing.

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