Sunday, August 14, 2005

CD Review: Michael McDonald – The Ultimate Collection

I’ve always considered Michael McDonald one of the greatest R&B vocalists alive. From his days as a member of the Doobie Brothers to his recent tributes to Motown, McDonald has always contributed powerfully soulful performances to every song. And now, for the first time, all of his Doobie Brothers and solo hits are being offered together on The Ultimate Collection.

It’s important to note that Michael McDonald produced the album himself, so it’s probably safe to say that it represents the artist’s view of what an ultimate collection of his music entails.

For me, the highlights of this 19-track set are the six Doobie Brothers songs, which McDonald was a member of from the mid-70s to 1982. All of McDonald’s post-Doobie Brothers hits, including “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” and “Sweet Freedom” are included. The minor hits “I Gotta Try” and “No Lookin’ Back,” co-written by Kenny Loggins, are here, too.

The collection also includes the popular duets with James Ingram (“Yah Mo B There”) and Patti LaBelle (“On My Own”). Though, truthfully, I cannot stand either of them. They are the type of songs that do not stand the test of time, and usually wind up on cheesy 80s compilations.

Speaking of music of the 80’s, McDonald’s non-Doobies contributions to this album from that decade are by far the weakest on this collection. I’ve always been stymied by the way his and other pop/R&B artists’ records were produced at that time, or should I say overproduced. With the introduction of so much new technology, including sound modeling synthesizers and drum machines, popular music of the 80s was victimized by over-utilization of that technology. For a guy whose voice exudes heart and soul, the music on some of those tracks from the 80s suck the heart and soul right out of the listener.

This album provided a pleasant surprise for me in it’s inclusion of two tracks from McDonald’s 2000 album Blue Obsession. Upon listening to the songs “No Love to be Found” and “Open the Door,” I took a chance on Blue Obsession and was really impressed. It’s got a Steely Dan feel to it, which isn’t too surprising considering he played on four albums with “The Dan.” I recommend Blue Obsession for even the casual Michael McDonald fan.

Like any “best of” compilation, if you like the artist, you’ll like the album. And for The Ultimate Collection, all the hits and radio songs are here. Sure, there are probably some deep cuts that hardcore fans would have liked included here, but anything short of a “complete works” box set would fail at that attempt. And while I’m not a fan of McDonald’s 80s era releases, I can accept the fact that he was very commercially successful during that time.

If you are looking to purchase one Michael McDonald “best of” album, I recommend you get this one for the fact that this is the only one with McDonald’s Doobie Brothers hits. And if you’re like me, those are the ones that really matter.

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