Solo acoustic guitarist Francis Doughty is one of the best-kept secrets in town. One of the few local guitarists following in the demanding John Fahey/Leo Kottke mode. Doughty makes a nature-inspired music that, though peaceful, transcends the New Age. On his sparkling, gentle new CD, Under the Sky, there's a bit of tension and invention to go along with the bucolic prettiness.
by Larry Parnass (DAILY HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE)
Under the Sky is a big place. When he gave that title to his new CD, Francis Doughty awarded himself lots of wandering-around room. He sets off into it with energy, focus and imagination in this lovely album of instrumental guitar pieces. He maps and takes possession of a big piece of ground, in songs that demonstrate great range and tone.
It takes a large talent to keep people listening when the only voice to be heard is that of a single instrument, even if it has six or 12 strings.
Doughty, who lives in Wendell, brings a virtuosic handling of his instrument to his task here, sounding out many moods and adventures under that big sky. This is music that promote reflection, as it teases moods from listeners.
By turns, the notes in Under the Sky come slowly with feeling, or they come in torrents. Either way, they come beautifully through in Doughty's deft handling of each composition, whether they are his own or borrowed. He follows the "Sheebeg Sheemore," a tip-toeing 18th-century Irish harp ;tune, with the luscious jangle of "(We're) Getting Closer," a song pent up with anxieties of arrival.
Fans of Leo Kottke have been known to venture that Doughty -- who grew up listening to that 12-string master -- can play just as well. Both leave a clear mark of authorship. What prompts a musician to advance and retreat across the long neck of a guitar? What moves him to tickle loose a harmonic note? Answer: artistry.
Doughty honors Kottke by playing his "Busted Bicycle." The song races, climbs and slides with grace. In his note on it, Doughty writes, "Likening guitar-playing styles to paths up a mountain, songs like this one... point to another way: bore a tunnel through the base and run through it to get to the other side."
It figures that Doughty imagines himself traveling across, and through, these lands. In other hands, the ability to play this well might lead to works that glorify the orb of the guitar itself. Doughty uses his strings to get to where he's going. Bring your disordered thoughts. His notes will comb them free.
Francis Doughty is a Massachusetts farmer of sorts, tending large vegetable gardens and several animals when he's not playing music. After listening to his second release Under the Sky, it's hard to imagine him doing anything BUT playing music.
Under the Sky is a 13-song CD of guitar instrumentals where Francis basically puts on a clinic. His fingerstyle melodies are flawless and the sound is amazingly clean and clear thanks to his co-producers: Laura (his spouse) and Bruce Kahn.
Francis composed ten of the tunes. Of the other three he didn't write, two make it to the "best of" list: Geoff Muldaur's "Mole's Moan" (done by other instrumentalists, most notably by Tom Rush back in the '60's) and Leo Kottke's "Busted Bicycle." Francis' treatment of each is superb and you don't even care who wrote them. "Mole's Moan" is lush, flowing and rich in texture (done on 12-string) while he goes to the ultra-fast land for "...Bicycle," written by one of his greatest influences. In fact, if you didn't know this wasn't Kottke, you'd almost swear it was him. (But ol' Leo probably would use a slide on the tune and Francis doesn't do much if any of that on this CD).
(Note here: Francis explains that he utilizes a technique of finger "sliding" from fret 5 to 12 in one movement, for example, which is called glissando. Nice to learn a technical term now and then! He also noted that he only used a 12-string guitar on two tracks.)
Of his original tunes, the opener "Pearl-Streaked Morning" and the playful "We're Getting Closer" are the two best. In fact, the CD would be worth having just for those songs alone.
Most instrumental works have extensive liner notes and this CD is no exception. They are insightful and thoughtful. No amount of guesswork would match the exact interpretation of the artist's original intent, so this reviewer won't even try it. Each piece brings to mind different things to each individual and that is how it should be.
In a word (or two): Awesome and spellbinding.
by Charlene Arsenault (WORCESTER MAGAZINE)
INSTRUMENTAL TALENT - Sometimes music speaks louder than words
If Extreme had been better songwriters, perhaps they wouldn't have needed those cliche lyrics for "More Than Words." Nuno Bettencourt could have -- perhaps should have -- told that woman how he felt through those notes on his guitar.
Francis Doughty worries about his words not living up to the high standards he's et for himself. It's one of the reasons he plays instrumental guitar. A lot of people think "boring" when they hear that. But a performance by Doughty is as compelling -- if not more so -- than a lot of the singer-songwriters who choke us with their mediocrity in the corners of coffeehouses. Coming from a classical background, Doughty slides around the guitar neck much like a mused painter fervently splashes colors on a canvas.
It's his great fantasy to be able to write a killer song with lyrics, but writing a song and singing it in public is like hitting that first hill of the Superman roller-coaster at Six Flags.
"Occasionally I can be coaxed into singing" says Doughty. "I enjoy it. Am I good? It depends on who you're talking to. I've had classical training and have sung in choruses. For the most part, you want to put your best face forward, so I go the instrumental route most of the time. A lot of people wouldn't want to do the instrumental thing because it's complicated, but I have a lot of respect for people who sing and write."
Like any artist, he says, you've got to find out what works. Like a painter has a forte, whether it be watercolors, abstracts or portraits, Doughty found that his classical training and expressive nature merged to make him especially good at inventive, textured and difficult finger-style. It really hit home when he first heard Leo Kottke.
A late-bloomer, Doughty didn't start playing out until friends understandably insisted that he should. His first public gig was in '97. His discs, too, were fan-driven. He's got two out now: Among Trees and Under the Sky -- and 10 songs ready to be recorded.
Doughty's songs affect the ears like seasons affect the senses. Like Fall, with its crisp air and colored leaves falling to the ground, can inspire you to feel retrospective, and Spring seems to fill us with hope, Doughty's arrangements can blow blades of grass or fall like icy snow. More than words.
"Because language is the most powerful medium," says Doughty, "it's almost more of a challenge to convey an emotion without words. On the other hand, music is universal and if you can ride with that emotion you're feeling and stay true to that... it doesn't always work, but..."
Sometimes the tune comes out first -- a chord arrangement will inspire a title. Sometimes it's the other way around. "Jasper's in the Window" from Among Trees for instance, Doughty wrote about his beloved cat who had died.
"He would always go in and out the window," says Doughty. "What I was trying to convey was that he was grateful, and he was so happy and he was always in a good mood. It's hard to imitate a cat, but there are a couple of notes that I try to make sound like him. There is a little slide that I do throughout the song that is supposed to be like that. It's subtle. I was trying to convey my love and happiness towards him... You can lose yourself in their world."
And you can easily lose yourself in Doughty's music.
On his sophomore effort, Francis Doughty maintains the widely recognized excellence he displayed on his first outing. He has often been compared to Leo Kottke, and his version of Kottke's "Busted Bicycle" demonstrates why: he attacks the tune with his 12-string guitar, choosing to burrow through the base of the mountain rather than taking a meandering road around it (his analogy). He again reaches for the 12-string for Geoff Muldaur's "Mole's Moan" and for Carolan's "Sheebeg Sheemore." His choice of the 12-string for the Carolan composition is inspired (as is his arrangement of this Celtic chestnut) and suggests that the full sound of the 12-string is a natural stand-in for the Irish harp. The balance of the album is devoted to ten of Doughty's compositions (he studied classical composition at the University of Massachusetts). On these pieces, Doughty demonstrates that he has moved far beyond the influences of John Fahey and Leo Kottke to find his own voice, especially on "Pearl-Streaked Morning," "Steve's Pain," "Star Spangles on the Pond," and "Embers" (you can almost see the embers flickering when you hear the harmonics on this tune). This CD is exceptionally well-recorded and produced, and right down to the cover art, photography and liner notes. Highly recommended.
This great acoustic guitarist has settled in Wendell, Massachusetts. After his debut album Among Trees, which is a masterpiece, now there is a new album of Francis Doughty called Under the Sky.
Francis plays 6-string as well as 12-string Taylor guitars. The recording technique is well-done, the guitars reflect nice warm tones. "Elusive Cranberries" is one of my favourites, with nice rich overtones on a great intimate melody line, which moves you. "Steve's Pain" has this floating character in a nice warm atmosphere. "As Clouds Dance with the Moon", again Francis creates this reflecting warm atmosphere, which sounds like poetry. Francis Doughty is a lyrical guitarist, which surely will impress any acoustic guitar lover. Francis' style has many influences , among them Leo Kottke, but then any comparison does not hold. Francis Doughty has a unique own intimate style, which has a very introspective character. His opening track is called "Pearl-Streaked Morning" which is very compelling and has a nice drive. "First Impressions" has a very profound character and is very touching. "Blue Darter" is a real great composition with a nice bass pattern on an intimate melody line. "(We're) Getting Closer" has a nice groove with some percussion added.
Guitarist Francis Doughty paints wonderful, impressionistic landscapes on his debut of original compositions. Among Trees is a deep forest meditation among mist -- shrouded branches and sparkling multi-colored foliage.
There are shades of classical, ragtime, and Hawaiian slack-key styles and an overall tone of reverence for nature and its beautiful mysteries. "By Lantern Light" and "The Elm Tree" are exceptional compositions, showing Doughty's classical technique at its bet. The tone and feel is a little like Villa-Lobos as played by John Renbourn, deeply resonant, crystal clear and rich with harmony. On "By Lantern Light" the cascading melodies evoke light refracted through the woods or shadows dancing around a campfire. The gorgeous, shifting melodies of "The Elm Tree" suggest a forest full of activity--rustling leaves, chattering birds and gently falling raindrops.
Doughty's playing on the dreamy and lush "Hermit Thrush" and "Button-girl" recalls the work of legendary Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete, with simple themes explored and developed organically and beautifully. "Gandalf's Guitar Garden" and "Jasper's in the Window" combine ragtime and slack-key influences in a more rhythmic style.
Among Trees, expertly recorded by Bruce Kahn at Big Chair Creek Studio in Northfield, is a gem.
Taylor Guitars review
Francis Doughty acoustic guitar since he was 17, but only three years ago decided to "stop hiding his light under a bushel basket" and perform live. His supple fingerstyle folk is inspired by John Fahey, Ed Gerhard, and Leo Kottke, but perhaps even more by the bucolic "homesteading" lifestyle that he says "keeps him in the vegetable gardens or the woodsheds for some portion of every day." Doughty's debut album of instrumentals, Among Trees, is aptly titled; his honeydew melodies unfold in an unhurried, halcyon pace that caresses the senses and suggests a Waldenesque setting, ungoverned by clocks.
Doughty studied classical composition at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and credits his grounding in the classical tradition for his sense of musical structure. Of his 510 and 815-CE, which yield warm, rich, clear, organic tones, Doughty says: "These guitars sing, and have truly been the inspiration for me to put out my debut CD and perform in public.
"I'm hopelessly addicted to this instrument," he confesses of his passion for guitar. "I fish around a lot on it, and every now and then I get rewarded by something surprising, and pleasing, in the way that it describes something that's real to me. There's a necessity to playing the guitar that would be impossible to overcome. It's part of me; part of my language."
Based up in Massachusetts, steel string guitarist Francis Doughty strikes an inspiring chord among fans of the instrumental acoustic genre. He's been compared to legends like Fahey and Kottke to Renaissance lute master, John Dowland, yet on his recent solo CD Among Trees, Doughty carves a distinctive niche in a genre filled with inspired emulators.
The mostly rural settings of the thirteen track Among Trees have made it a favorite with New Age and meditation music fans. I could swear the birds outside my window were singing along with Doughty's flawless finger-style guitar playing.
Doughty's wooded guitar techniques are slightly reminiscent of folk singer James Taylor's guitar work while the innocence and lack of anxiety that made albums like Sweet Baby James, (minus the vocals) so great, are rekindled here. Doughty claims to be hopelessly addicted to his 510 and 815-CE Taylor Guitars and uses them to great avail on Among Trees.
Cleverly composed, performed and superbly recorded acoustic music, Among Trees takes its place among the eminent guitar albums of the recent past.
"Francis Doughty paints pictures of New England with his guitar."
- Jason Bovian, WBUR (Boston)
"[Among Trees] is a place to go -- it's a haven against the world, really, when it's too much..."
- Connie Bowblis, WKNH (Keene, NH)
"I don't think there's a track I don't like... the whole album is a gem!"
- Jack Warner, DJ, Australia
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