Des Moines-native singer-songwriter Ryne Doughty approached the production of his latest album, Date Night, with the desire to step away from the more stripped-down folk sound of his 2013 album, Under The Willow Tree. “I love that last album and the sound but I just wanted to do something different and really bring these songs to life,” he explained. “All of the songs are still songwriter based, but with more instrumentation and energy.”
To that end, the songs on Date Night blossom with the addition of a more substantial band backing them. Even with the bigger presence of instrumentation, Doughty’s mellow baritone and smooth fingerstyle acoustic plucking remain the focus of the album.
Doughty’s observational storytelling songwriting draws easy comparisons to influences Greg Brown and John Prine — his strength is in his ability to elevate the ordinary by focusing on the details. In the title track, he offers up a tribute to the date night with a few specific scenarios —
getting Chinese buffet (“The white rice was steaming/there’s a glaze on the green beans/the lonely man in the corner just looking around”), going to the fair (“the corn dogs and funnel cakes, yeah/the hog barns and the 4H/and the tank tops with the tattoo sleeves”) and a failed camping cookout encounter with gasoline (“Beef patties burnt black and/eyebrows — hope they grow back and/of course for this fiasco I’m to blame”). Each story is punctuated by the chorus reinforcing that no matter what the outcome, the important part was being on a date with the woman he loves.
My favorite track is “Crossing the River,” an epic and dark hellhound-on-my-tail gospel track that reminds me a lot of Mark Knopfler’s post-Dire Straits work. The band develops the dark tone with the sizzling slide guitar echoing the pain of the narrator who is trying like hell to break the pattern his sinning father set forth: “Whoa Daddy you’d be so happy/you passed your boozing and gambling genes down to me.”
Ryne Doughty has put out a satisfyingly complete record in Date Night. Like all great songwriters he knows how to pull from a wide palette of inspiration all captured to disc with a great backing band. He should continue in this direction for a bit.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 228.