What does it sound like?:
Michael McDonald has been a voice in my record collection for 44 years. From his time with Steely Dan’s touring band, (and subsequent backing vocals on the Katy Lied, The Royal Scam, Aja and Gaucho albums) to The Doobie Brothers, some gigantic hits, session work with Christopher Cross, Stephen Bishop, Bonnie Raitt and Toto and then some huge solo (and duet) hits, heck, I seem to ‘got it all.’
His solo albums however have been patchy fare. Disregarding the 3 Motown covers albums (the great tracks from which would make a decent EP) he has made 6 solo albums in 35 years. Surely a call from The Blue Nile is imminent? Last September’s Wide Open is his 6th. And it might just be his best.
Of course the album is stacked with stellar session players, the cream of the crop. Why wouldn’t you want to be on a M.McD track? He has one of the great voices, instantly identifiable, liquid chocolate, huskier than a pack of huskies pulling a snow-sled, so you would, wouldn’t you? Robben Ford, David Paich, Steve Porcaro, Warren Haynes, Dan Huff, David Levita, Tony Lucido, Branford Marsalis, Marcus Miller, Tom Scott, Leland Sklar, Willie Weeks, Michael Landau, to name just a few….not only are they the staples of much of my record collection, they can all flat out play. Herding these cats is producer and drummer extraordinaire, Shannon Forrest, currently occupying the red hot drum seat in Toto – and he does a fantastic job.
M.McD has an amazing voice. That’s a given. But his brilliance as a songwriter gets overlooked. I sat in the circle at The Hammy Odeon one night as Alison Krauss, Bluegrass angel and no mean singer herself, eulogised about recording a couple of his songs on her fantastic Forget About It album. She then proceeded to make me weep as she nailed Michael’s It Don’t Matter Now (opening lines: “It’s finally come. Is that sorry on your breath? Where were you when I was sitting back here, missing you to death? It don’t matter now.” On this new album his songwriting has been inspired by his recent sobriety (no, wait, COME BACK!) although only in an abstract way – there are no songs about AA meetings, or how great life is now, etc. What there is is plenty of really great songs, with lyrics that I keep going back to, and a production sound that absolutely leaps out of the speakers.
The harmonica on Half Truth is completely unnecessary. It adds nothing and gets in the way of a great, bluesy song. I have no idea why it’s there.
What does it all *mean*?
It has taken me a long, long time to work it out but I now realise that there is a reason why I love a Michael McDonald composition. I don’t play a melodic musical instrument ( I was a drummer,) but, if I did, I would use every chord change that he does. I love his chord changes, especially when his voice is singing over them.
I have a theory that music has a chemical and physical relationship with the body – that certain notes, chords and changes affect cells and synapses in us, uniquely, that we have no control over. In my case, Michael McD knows every key, every code, every password to my heart and my brain.
Goes well with…
A big fat glass of Amarone. A huge bowl of seafood tagliatelle. A really good car stereo. A crisp, cold winter morning, with the sun streaming through the window and a crunching, tingling frost outside.
Might suit people who like…
The Dan, The Doobies, Toto, great singers, great players, stellar production and great songwriting.