Tom Doughty - "Can't Teach An Old Dog"

Review By Aron Radford

Tom Doughty is one of Britain’s best kept slide secrets. I myself was ashamedly ignorant of his wealth of brilliant studio recordings, and ALL of them are lap slide guitar nuggets.

Tom is a self taught guitarist from a very young age but in 1974 he suffered a life changing road traffic accident that would prevent him ever paying conventional guitar again. Frustrated but not defeated he eventually found musical solace in the lap steel through an unconventional but hugely effective playing technique. The slide playing here is way beyond critique. What he manages to present to the ears is so profoundly at odds with what the eyes see that it has to be applauded and admired in equal measures.

He sings on all his own recordings too and has an honest yet sweetly soulful vocal delivery that compliments the rustic nature of his working man blues/folk genre that he operates and excels within. Normally found playing his trusty Bear Creek Weissenborn and his National Tricone resonator he has recorded 4 studio albums to date and all are quite exceptional slide gems.

It took me a while to pin point and articulate what i loved so much about this mans playing but eventual i put it down to this. With a deliciously sweet glassy overtone via his signature glass/steel tubular finger slide his playing manages to capture the ears with beautifully complex ‘top end’ micro tones that are always very present in the mix (some of this is also due to lack of behind string dampening). I love this sound and it’s something i don’t hear very often as not many slide guitarists use glass as predominately.  Tom has the gift of expressionism too. His delivery is always pitch perfect and the attack and decay of each note is clearly an important part of his overall playing charm, he never over plays or showboats he just lets the tasteful delivery, tone and the sustain do the talking.

This is Tom’s newest album released just this year (2016). “Can’t Teach An Old Dog” is a 15 track CD that comprises of 11 vocal/playing songs and 4 pure instrumentals. Kicking off with proceeding with his foot stomping “Milky Tea” (a pastry, brew, pie fixation that Tom often humorously visits), Tom hits the ground running, this must be a real audience winner when he plays it live. “Journeyman Blues” continues this impactful approach and sits very comfortably with the opener to create a brace of smouldering blues infused slow burners. “Your Picture Has Faded” is another fantastic blues percussion, bass and slide ensemble that is a truly representative ‘Tom Doughty’ track. Seamlessly following up this blueprint is Tom’s enigmatic cover of “Heard It Through The Grapevine” with some joyous and lively deltaesque Tricone slide playing. “Ask Sweet Mary” a song about ‘dunking biscuits’ no less :-) regardless of the frivolous subject matter the musical delivery is choice full of sweet soulful blues rhetoric that is infectious and patriotically southern blues in its DNA. 

It’s interesting to see Tom has categorised the album into ‘Side One & Side Two’. This marks a distinct shift in emphasis for me in musical direction, ‘side one’ being very ‘working man blues’ in its approach and ‘side two’ beginning  to emphasis ‘playing dynamics’ with pronounced slide articulation. 

This is very evident on “Shimmer” which is an objective lesson in ‘the importance of intonation and sustain’ simple single note plucks with elongated sustain and once again the divine and magical control of microtones which just as the title suggests ‘shimmer and shine’. A cover of Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country” gets new life injected into it with Tom’s tasteful slide refrains and arpeggiated chord arrangements, this is a great cover that does what a cover should do in my opinion, i.e offer up a new and creative prospective to a familiar song. “Running Free” is a new version of an old song from Tom’s second album of the same name. This version is more upbeat with more movement and a faster cadence woven together with some added ‘Cora’ instrumentation for a slightly sub continental flavour. “Batasta” is a Weissenborn/Tricone instrumental duet that is a real album favourite of mine. Simple clean melodies extenuating intonational tone and dynamics, this is flawless playing! Following up hot on it’s heels is the instrumental  “Long Merkin Less Boomey” another sweet soulful composition that Tom effortlessly performs in a recital style manner, yep another one for the lap steel purists. As if i didn’t love this man and album enough already then he goes and covers “Available Space”. A Ry Cooder instrumental that Tom has added lyrics too and called it “Rescue Me”, a genial move that highlight Tom’s great slide skills in a homage to the great man’s ‘feel and rhythm’. 

The last two tracks “Almost Naomi” and “Awakening” are instrumental duets with Theobo (kind of like a massive lute) player Matt Wadsworth. These are in Tom’s own words “A trail for a potential full blown duet album, and welcome to feedback”. Well he’s my feedback they are MAGNIFICENT and for me personally the highlight of the whole album. The counter balance of the two instruments is splendiferous and the two ‘Paraorchestra’ members have very comparable approaches in delivery and composition ethos. The semi-classical nature of the tracks are extremely emotive, very clean and pristinely executed which gives them a renaissance feel.  Please please record this duet album as it will surely be a musical triumph.

I was lucky enough to be gifted two of Tom earlier cd’s too, namely  “Running Free” and “Have A Taste Of This” and if i wasn’t already his newest biggest fan then these two previous albums sealed the deal. If you can check out tracks like “Real Emotional Girl”, the awesome Beatles instrumental cover “Eleanor Rigby”, “Some These Days”and “Black Orpheus” from the “Running Free” album and tracks like “Louisiana”, “Delia”, the haunting instrumental “Maggie’s Pies”, “Queen Of Tarts”, and splendidly Indian flavoured “Jalesar Ghanta” from the “Have A Taste Of This” CD.

Tom Doughty; A name all lap sliders the world over should be aware off. A hugely underrated and criminally overlooked talent that all lap steel and slide aficionados should be dutifully educated about.​