Performing on the same album together for the first time since 1976, The Doobie Brothers have returned with an interesting reinterpretation of twelve of their major hits. Collaborating with some of Country’s biggest artists including Blake Shelton, Chris Young and the Zac Brown Band, Southbound is ultimately part tribute and part duets with shared lead vocals and instrumental contributions alike. Formed in 1969, The Doobie Brothers have sold more than 40 million albums and toured the globe with their distinct sound, which is an affectionate blend of blues/roots music with a heavy rock foundation. Their harmony-laden, rhythm and guitar driven style have made them an American institution for which fans have followed devoutly for more than four decades and they are showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Easing into the album with Zac Brown’s rendition of the hugely successful Black Water, listeners are lulled into a world of folk tendencies with a bluesy, country twang. More modern drum sounds, an interesting combination of finger picking banjo and slippery notes on the slide guitar and a fiddle revival by Jimmy Martini combine to capture the spirit of the original track while adding some tasty chops to the new arrangement. It’s followed well by Listen to the Music, no doubt one of their most recognisable tunes.
Michael McDonald’s voice still shines through after all these years but is best highlighted in his duet with Sara Evans on What A Fool Believes. Fan favourite Long Train Runnin’ is loud and energetic with an enjoyable harmonica solo by Huey Lewis, but it sounds as though the musicians got slightly carried away in their tricks and fills to the detriment of some really great syncopated hooks and rhythms for which the tune is famous for.
Standout tracks quickly make up for this misgiving and include the upbeat, highly energetic Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me) and the mysterious, rhythmically unique You Belong To Me both of which are sung by different people but delivered with the same level of conviction and soul. A special mention goes to Jesus Is Just Alright which takes it’s listeners on a journey through hard-hitting rock rhythms and loose, emotive blues improvisations in the midway breakdown.
The Doobie Brothers and their collaborators have done a great job at reinventing some of their classic hits and it’s a welcome relief to discover that they have added something new to each track bringing it into the 21st century. There is a real polished feel to the album though, which can be viewed subjectively as a positive or negative aspect. While the recordings sound crisp and clear with much warmer intonations compared to the techniques used decades ago, it does somehow take away a little bit from the charm of the Doobie Brother’s original 70’s recordings. Nonetheless, a great album that’s typically American and perfect for those long hot Summer’s or cross-country road trips. It will no doubt have listeners reminiscing about the good ole’ days of rock and roll music when artists actually played their instruments and played them damn well.