The Captain And Me
Warner Brothers, 1973
REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/23/2005
The early Doobie Brothers sound is hard to define, which to me signifies the mark of a good band. Part Southern rock, part country and part classic rock, mixed with a boogie bar band feel, the pre-Michael McDonald incarnation of the band rightfully became popular in the mid-'70s.
The Captain And Me is the band's best effort. That's not to say it's a great album, because the Doobies never made a real album statement and were more singles-oriented anyway. But it has enough individual moments to make it stand out among the other Doobie efforts.
What sets this release apart from other Doobie efforts is its edge. "Long Train Runnin" is driven by acoustic guitars and an intermittent harmonica, but it has a skittering feel in both the vocals and quick chord changes in the guitar. "Dark Eyed Cajon Woman" is slightly melancholy, highlighted by the reliable Doobie harmonies, while "Evil Woman" trades off vocals over top of a driving beat reminiscent of Deep Purple.
"China Grove" and "Without You" showcase the harder side of the band, with the latter going on a bit too long. This is in contrast to the typical folky feel of "South City Midnight Lady" and "Clear As The Driven Snow," which sound like outtakes from the band's last two albums and are decent. Only "Natural Woman" is a generic clunker.
The remaining trio of songs is the only time the Doobies feel like an album band instead of a singles band. "Busted Down Around O'Connelly Corners" is a nice acoustic ditty that ends too quickly, seguing into the melancholy, soaring "Ukiah," which is a sadly-overlooked tune in the band's history (it didn't even make the box set). The set closes with the title track, which starts off pleasant and forgettable but builds in intensity, speeding up and soaring to the album's finish.
Why the Eagles were more popular than these guys I'll never know, because the Doobies can exude gorgeous vocal harmonies, a sense of fun and even some melancholia into their music, often into one song. The Captain And Me may not make much of a dent after it's over, but its strongest moments -- "Ukiah," the title track, "Long Train Runnin'" -- are among the band's best work, and overall the album is the band's most cohesive and enjoyable release.