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CD REVIEW

Michael McDonald: Wide Open

by Jeff Tamarkin on October 04, 2017


Even if in the past Michael McDonald’s singing has made you want to incinerate your headphones—and there are some who feel that way (remember the “bullet in the brain” scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin?)—Wide Open is worth your time. After 17 years of recording Motown covers, R&B hits and Christmas songs, the former Doobie Brothers frontman and Steely Dan associate has pieced together a dozen new original tracks and populated them with support from some of the most virtuosic musicians in the biz: bassists Marcus Miller and Willie Weeks, guitarists Robben Ford and Warren Haynes, saxophonist Branford Marsalis and several others. You could tune out the voice and just listen to the jams and walk away more than satisfied. But you won’t. On Wide Open, McDonald has cast away many of the dubious blue eyed-soul mannerisms that defined his earlier style, digging deep into the core of these always-honest, sometimes gritty, never-mannered songs and delivering them with sincerity, punch and heart. “Blessing in Disguise,” the funky gem featuring Marsalis’ seamlessly shimmery soprano solo, is simultaneously gutsy and sleek. The appropriately gospel-informed “Hail Mary” opener, with a guest vocal spot from McDonald’s wife, Amy Holland, features electric guitar, Wurlitzer and a horn arrangement from the headliner, whose own lead vocal soars from note one. “If You Wanted to Hurt Me” and the finale, “Free a Man,” are take-no-prisoners soul-rockers that give Shannon Forrest, the drummer throughout the album, the horn team and guitarist Michael Landau a hardy workout. Without losing any of his most identifiable characteristics, McDonald has opened wide into a whole ‘nother thing on Wide Open.

Authors: Jeff Tamarkin
Artist: Michael McDonald
Album: Wide Open
Label: BMG

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