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Posts Tagged ‘Michael McDonald’

(Above: As he has done countless time through the years, Michael McDonald relishes “Takin’ to the Streets” on June 17, 2017 at the Kauffman Center in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Michael McDonald has enough hits in his five-decade career to please fans for days. On Saturday night at the Kauffman Center, the celebrated songwriter boldly chose to devote nearly half his set to introduce songs from his upcoming album.

The strength of the material rewarded McDonald’s decision. Although the songs were new, many sounded instantly familiar and blended well with the classic numbers. “Free Your Mind” had a funky Haight-Ashbury feel, while the slow blues “Just Strong Enough” featured several great solos from McDonald’s six-piece band. The upbeat “If You Really Wanted to Hurt Me,” perhaps the best of the bunch, found McDonald’s unintroduced backing vocalist signing along off-mic and dancing and clapping across the stage.

IMG_IMG_Michael_McDonald_2_1_2353JDV3_L135136365Enough hits from McDonald’s days with the Doobie Brothers and solo career were sprinkled throughout the 90-minute set to keep the audience engaged, even if they didn’t find their feet until “What a Fool Believes” near the end of the night.

Opening act Boz Scaggs took the opposite tack, delivering more than half of his bestselling “Silk Degrees” album. The 1976 smooth soul album sold 5 million copies and generated four Top 40 singles, which delivered the biggest cheers of the night.

Mixed among the familiar tunes were several covers, including Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” and Li’l Millet’s “Rich Woman.” Scaggs dedicated the former to “my favorite Missouri musician. Well, him and Miles (Davis), anyway.” The latter featured a honking sax riff and swampy feel that betrayed the song’s Louisiana origin and Scaggs’ Southern upbringing.

Both men were chatty, setting up less-familiar numbers with anecdotes about their inspiration. McDonald took the stage talking about growing up in St. Louis, and how when some of his relatives had too much to drink they’d end up driving to Kansas City.

A pair of blues songs provided the most compelling moments in Scaggs’ 85-minute set. “Some Change” was inspired by the kind of change that “seems to come along every four years” and featured some of Scaggs’ best guitar playing. The burning “Loan Me a Dime” gave all five band members plenty of time to stretch out and solo across its 10 minutes.

McDonald sent the mostly full room home happy with a gospel version of his first, and in many ways defining, Doobie Brothers hit, “Takin’ It Too the Streets.” The song opened with piano and organ gradually giving way to the full band and the admonition to let peace, love and justice rule.

Boz Scaggs setlist: It’s Over, Jojo, Rich Woman, Some Change, You Never Can Tell, Harbor Lights, Georgia, Cadillac Walk, Look What You’ve Done to Me, Lowdown, Lido Shuffle. Encore: What Can I Say, Loan Me a Dime.

Michael McDonald setlist: It Keeps You Runnin’, Sweet Freedom, Free Your Mind, I Keep Forgettin’, Find It In Your Heart, If You Wanted to Hurt Me, Just Strong Enough, Here to Love You, Beautiful Child, Half Truth, Minute by Minute, On My Own, What A Fool Believes, Takin’ It To the Streets.

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ain't nothing
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” Pop # 8, R&B # 1

By Joel Francis

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s first album together, “United,” was a smash that spawned three Top 5 R&B hits and turned Gaye into a soul superstar. A follow-up was inevitable. In March, 1968, less than three months after the release of their previous single, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” announced the fruits of the duo’s new collaborations.

“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” is more of a Brill Building pop song than a soul number. Each singer gets two brief verses, but the heavy emphasis is on the chorus, which is usually repeated. There is a touch of Carol King’s phrasing in Terrell’s verses and the piano line – particularly the bit that introduces the first verse owes to King’s style. Although the structure is deceptively simple, the song works because the hook allows the complementary voices to dance. The clever bridge also surprises up the verse-chorus structure.

The song is definitely outside of the Motown paradigm, but Gaye’s voice , especially the soulful moans that appear after the drums and bass introduce the song, let the listener know we’re still deep in Motown territory.

Sadly, “Real Thing” was the next-to-last “real thing” Gaye and Terrell worked on together. In October, 14, 1967, following the completion of the No. 1 R&B hit “You’re All I Need To Get By,” Terrell collapsed in Gaye’s arms while performing at college homecoming in Virginia. Doctors diagnosed Terrell with a brain tumor and her days as a singer and performer were over.

Gaye completed the pair’s second album, “You’re All I Need,” by overdubbing his voice to Terrell solo recordings, a trick reprised on the duo’s third and final album, “Easy.” Largely present in name only, “Easy,” found Valerie Simpson standing in for Terrell on all but two albums. “Easy” spawned three Top 20 R&B hits, but nothing as influential or wonderful as “Real Thing.”

When Terrell died at age 24 on March 16, 1970, Motown released her final “duet” with Gaye in tribute.

“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” has been a go-to duet for 40 years. Diana Ross and the Supremes were the first to capitalize, recording a version with the Temptations in 1969. The following year the Ross-relieved Supremes cut another version with the Four Tops. The Jackson 5 included their cover on their 1972 album “Lookin’ Out the Windows.” Aretha Franklin recorded a rare solo version of the song in 1974.

Other performers to record “Real Thing” include Donny and Marie Osmond, Gladys Knight and Vince Gill, Elton John and Marcella Detroit, and Beyonce and Justin Timberlake. Michael McDonald and Boyz II Men also included interpretations of the number on their Motown tribute albums.

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Four-tops-reach-out-1966

The Four Tops – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” Pop # 1, R&B # 1

By Joel Francis

The dramatic introduction to “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” owes more than a little to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and was Motown’s most cinematic chart-topper to date. While the flute gets the signature melody, check out James Jamerson’s uber-melodic bassline bubbling underneath the bevy of instruments. Paul McCartney gets a lot of (deserved) credit for his inventive basslines, but Jamerson’s brilliant countermelody here rivals anything McCartney came up with the Beatles – OK, maybe not “I Feel Fine” – and should permanently insert Jamerson into the ‘60s bass legends conversation.

The song was written by the white-hot trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland – there were actually other Hitsville employees at the time, although one wouldn’t know it by looking at the Billboard charts – but Norman Whitfield supplied the galloping percussion. Propelled by HDH’s rich arrangement, “Reach Out” starts strong and continues to build through the verse, dropping off and resting slightly before the Tops casually fall into the chorus. Lyrics could almost become superfluous with a melody this strong, but lead singer Levi Stubbs’ words of commitment and devotion are equally compelling.

Although the song became the Tops signature number, Stubbs initially felt his voice was too rough for the song and tried to recuse himself. Fortunately, HDH prevailed on Stubbs to give it a try. Stubbs promptly delivered one of the great vocals in the Motown catalog. Critics who pick on “overproduced” songs like this as examples of the slick Motown sound need to pay more attention to Stubbs’ vocals. His signing is as gritty and soulful as anything in the Stax cannon. Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson may sound a little stilted in singing in front of Stax’ incredible house band Booker T and the MGs. It’s not hard to imagine Stubbs being more than up to the task. Unfortunately such cross-pollination never occurred, but with the advent of ProTools and continued merger of major record labels, maybe the Motown and Stax catalog will end up under the same corporate umbrella and someone will give us a recreated session.

Stubbs’ soulful signing on “Reach Out” inspired a lot of people – unfortunately it inspired a lot of the wrong people. While the ability to sing soul music is not racial, a whole lotta white dudes certainly tried to make the case. Elton John, Michael Bolton and Michael McDonald all failed on this number. More successful were Diana Ross, who took her cover into the Top 40 in 1971, and Gloria Gaynor, who did a disco version just four years later.

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