Michael McDonald, Wide Open | Album Review
Blue-eyed soul, soft-rock veteran Michael McDonald makes an epic return on ‘Wide Open,’ his first new studio album in nine years.
Nine years. That’s how long the world had to wait for a new studio album from Michael McDonald. That’s just not right. If we’re being picky, it’s actually been 20 years since the former Doobie Brother dropped an album of originals. Despite the fact that fans had to wait so long for a comeback, it’s well worth it. Wide Open ends up being a well-rounded return-to-form for McDonald.
Michael McDonald kicks off Wide Open superbly with the groovy “Hail Mary.” “Hail Mary” feels “in-the-pocket” from the start. The sound has a vintage quality that reminds the listener why McDonald was such a legendary artist. Electric piano, saxophone soloing – sigh. Nearly seven minutes in length, “Hail Mary” never gets rushed. There’s the sense that Michael could care less about length – he’s going to take his time and let the record ride out. He does indeed, and it’s brilliant. This sets the tone magnificently for Wide Open.
“Just Strong Enough” keeps Wide Open on-point. Slackening the pace, “Just Strong Enough” offers up another lengthy record, clocking in just shy of eight minutes. Like the opener, it’s relaxed, flexing and showing off the supreme musicianship of McDonald. The harmonic progression, production, and instrumental portions, help to keep things captivating, in addition to McDonald’s elite pipes.
“Find it in Your Heart” only approaches the six-minute mark, compared to the further reaches of the opening duo. Even with less duration, “Find it in Your Heart” packs as much punch. It’s just as soulful and well-written. McDonald exhibits both control and spirit at the appropriate moments.
The keyboards are traded for guitars on “Half Truth.” Compared to the three preceding numbers, “Half Truth” may be truest to the rock characterization of Wide Open. It’s consistent, while the harmonica adds even more charm. “Ain’t No Good” doesn’t play true to its title – it is good, or at least nearly as good as everything else. No, it doesn’t shine as much as the crème de la crème, but it’s consistent.
“Honest Emotion” is beautiful, with McDonald exhibiting control and the utmost poise. Even without hearing the more dynamic side of his baritone, the emotion is indeed, honest. The production continues to be a bright spot, incorporating lush strings into the mix. One of the more thoughtful moments from Wide Open.
“Blessing in Disguise”
“Blessing in Disguise” smartly picks up the pace following more restrained numbers “Ain’t No Good” and “Honest Emotion.” From the jump, the rhythmic groove incites head-nodding and foot tapping. There’s no restraint from Michael McDonald, who digs in against a soulful backdrop. On follow-up “Dark Side,” he brings things back down. Ultimately, it ends up being ‘the calm before the storm.’
“If You Wanted to Hurt Me” sounds like clear throwback to past Michael McDonald, Doobie Brothers, and Kenny Loggins gems. The groove is the first hint of these retro vibes. Ultimately, “If You Wanted to Hurt Me” is an exceptional fusion of soft-rock, blue-eyed soul, pop, and soul with no-strings-attached. The production is awesome, incorporating guitars, keys, horns, and ample guilty listening pleasures. The riffs are crazy and most importantly, Michael is on autopilot. You know when he hits the falsetto it’s on!
Following “If You Wanted to Hurt Me” is an arduous task. Even so, McDonald handles the pressure well on “Beautiful Child.” Though slower than the track preceding, “Beautiful Child” isn’t a ballad. It embraces the soft-rock sound that many other successful songs from Wide Open have thrived off. McDonald remains soulful, but the guitars – acoustic and electric – fuel the fire here. The result is another well-rounded joint.
Penultimate number “Too Short” incorporates tropical-pop into the soulful rock mix. In the hands of Michael McDonald, it’s both enjoyable and successful. “Free a Man” concludes Wide Open thoughtfully, embracing social consciousness. McDonald addresses gays, blacks, religion, and freedom. For a 65-year old, the perspectives are certain liberal. That said, McDonald experienced the 60s and began his career in 70s, both pronounced social periods.
Despite making us wait nine years – twenty really – Michael McDonald comes back strong on Wide Open. He never misses the mark. Honestly, picking the crème de la crème is incredibly subjective in this case – the album is consistent to the nth degree. Hopefully, Michael will find it in his heart not to make us wait so long for his next album, assuming it happens.
Gems: “Hail Mary,” “Just Strong Enough,” “Find it In Your Heart,” “Half Truth,” “Blessing in Disguise” & “If You Wanted to Hurt Me”