As Michael McDonald tours this summer to promote the recent release of “Wide Open,” his first album of new material in 17 years, he is getting a boost of exposure through what might seem like unlikely collaborations with younger and decidedly hip artists.
In April 2017, McDonald, (now age 66), joined Thundercat on stage at the Coachella Music Festival, outside Los Angeles, a performance that gained a ton of media coverage. That performance followed a March 2017 appearance at Florida’s Okeechobee Music Festival alongside Solange Knowles, who sang McDonald’s 1978 Doobie’s smash hit, “What A Fool Believes.” Then McDonald took a turn at guest vocals on the Grizzly Bear song, “While You Wait for the Others.”
It’s enough to make one wonder if this was all part of some calculated campaign to make McDonald (who has often been humorously called one of the founding fathers of the yacht rock movement for his soulful, soft rock ballads of the 1970s and ‘80s) appealing to today’s young music-buying audience. McDonald, however, claims his recent collaborations were events of opportunity that pretty much fell into his lap.
The co-write on “Show Me the Way” happened when Kenny Loggins approached the genre-jumping Thundercat (real name Steve Bruner) after he heard about an interview where Bruner expressed his admiration for Loggins and McDonald.
“I don’t know how long any of this will last,” McDonald said of the collaborations and the renewed attention he is receiving. “My experience in the music business is everything comes in waves and things get quiet for awhile and you just kind of have to stay in touch with what your muse is and really should be. It’s anybody’s guess what that will be five years from now.”
Ups and downs
After spending time as a member of Steely Dan’s touring band in 1974, he first enjoyed major popularity in the late 1970s as a member of the Doobie Brothers, singing some of the band’s most popular songs, including “Takin’ It To The Streets,” “What A Fool Believes” and “Minute By Minute.” The Doobies broke up in 1982, and McDonald moved on to a solo career that saw considerable early success before his fortunes faded during the 1990s.
But then he signed with Universal Records, and the label suggested that McDonald make an album of covers of Motown hits. That album, 2003’s “Motown,” went double-platinum and put McDonald back into the music spotlight in a big way. A 2004 sequel, “Motown Two,” also did well, and in 2008 McDonald released an album of soul-rooted covers, “Soul Speak.”
Taking a break
Then came the nine-year stretch without a new album before McDonald started writing (or co-writing) and demoing songs, thinking he’d pitch them to other artists to cover. Instead, producer/drummer Shannon Forrest, who shared a studio with McDonald liked his rough demos, decided to cut new drum tracks for some of the songs. Other musicians were recruited to add guitars, bass and other instrumentation to the original demos. Eventually, Forrest invited McDonald to listen to the revamped tracks and McDonald agreed with Forrest’s suggestion that they had the makings of a McDonald solo album, “Wide Open.”
The new album rates with McDonald’s best work as a solo artist, fitting comfortably into his soul/R&B/pop wheelhouse. There’s an unhurried quality to the album, as simmering and lush tunes like “Strong Enough,” “Hail Mary” and “Honest Emotion” unfold gracefully and set the tone for the rest of the EP. A few other songs (the funky “Find It,” the perky “Hurt Me” and the bluesy “Half Truth”) kick up the tempos and add a little edge to the proceedings, giving “Wide Open” some welcome peaks and valleys. McDonald is in fine form throughout, with his soulful burnished vocals as strong and immediately identifiable as ever.
Michael McDonald will play during the NW Ohio Rib Off.
8pm | Friday, August 17
Lucas County Fairgrounds | 1406 Key St, Maumee
419-381-18851 | etix.com