In Defense of “Southbound”

The other day – for next to nothing  –  I got myself the Doobie Brothers’ most “recent” album, Southbound (Sony/Arista, 2014). Then I read the reviews around the Net and … I am getting ahead of myself. Indulge me for a minute.

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Firstly: There are many bands I have gotten somewhat tired of these past many years, usually because I simply listened to their releases far too many times. The Doobie Brothers are one of those bands.

Secondly: I am usually not a fan of bands re-recording their material (sometimes for the umpteenth time) just to make a fast buck.

Thirdly: As a (hobby) musician myself and as someone whose lifeblood has been music ever since he can remember, I appreciate musicians who are either just at the top of their game or, maybe even more important, know what they are doing and are putting a load of passion into what they put out there for others to listen to.

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Back to “Southbound”.

Aside from the obligatory bought reviews and from the ones by the die-hard fans who would even hail their favorite bands’ recorded shopping list(s), this Doobies album collected a serious amount of flak in no time, scathing reviews (from a mild “unnecessary” to a blistering “shit show“) that usually should suffice to blow any album out of the water, with the neighboring ones as collateral damage.

Well, I really like this one.
(Aside from the [usual] loud mastering).

In essence, some of the original and not so original lead vocalists of the various reincarnations of the Doobie Brothers (Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons, Michael McDonald) + long-time member John McFee teamed up with a number of contemporary country stars and bands to re-record some classic hits. It’s different from albums such as “Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles” (Giant, 1993), a tribute album that put the Eagles back on the map (for those who felt that they had perhaps been off it), because with the Doobies’ vocalists’ involvement, this comes across as “Doobie Brothers: Updated Hits“, especially since nobody really dared screw around with the original arrangements much.

I like every single track, but stand-out numbers for me are the really fabulous “Black Water”, which the Zak Brown Band (with Tom Johnston and McDonald both contributing background and Patrick Simmons background as well as some lead vocals) treats reverently, giving it a modern upgrade, “You Belong to Me”, with Donna Summer’s daughter Amanda Sudano Ramirez and a wonderful Michael McDonald doing his thing, as well as the two classic hits “Long Train Runnin'” and “China Grove” with Tom Johnston prominently in the mix.

At the end, this album (only) adds some moderate flourishes and rhythmic adaptions to the Doobies’ sound and ends up more as a celebration of what they were than giving it the material a serious (or awkward) new spin. Maybe the upgrade isn’t that overpowering simply because the Doobie Brothers were/are great fans of country music and hence their music has always fit the (again: mostly moderate) country glove presented here.

Despite some reviews to the contrary that I have read, Michael McDonald, who is acutely aware of criticism pointed at him regularly (“When your music becomes less relevant, your pathetic comic value might come in handy.” [Rolling Stone interview, 2014]) sounds great here and I guess I am one of the three or four people on this planet who have both been life-long fans of whatever he has done or participated in and have grown fond of his “older” voice as well.

Money grab?
Maybe.
They got mine.
Glad I spent it.

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The Doobie Brothers. Southbound. Sony/Arista, 2014.

01. Black Water (with Zac Brown Band) 4:19
02. Listen to the Music (with Blake Shelton and Hunter Hayes on guitar) 4:20
03. What a Fool Believes (with Sara Evans) 4:02
04. Long Train Runnin’ (with Toby Keith; Huey Lewis on harmonica) – 3:33
05. China Grove (with Chris Young) – 3:22
06. Takin’ It to the Streets (with Love and Theft) – 4:41
07. Jesus Is Just Alright (with Casey James) – 4:07
08. Rockin’ Down the Highway (with Brad Paisley) – 3:34
09. Take Me in Your Arms [Rock Me] (with Tyler Farr) – 3:46
10. South City Midnight Lady (with Jerrod Niemann) – 4:49
11. You Belong to Me (with Amanda Sudano Ramirez; Vince Gill on guitar) – 3:44
12. Nobody Intro – 0:46
13. Nobody (with Charlie Worsham) – 4:18

P.S.: In response to many reviews of this album … Yes, I know the Doobie Brothers were reduced to 4 members here. Get a life already…

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

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