Minute By Minute

The Doobie Brothers

Warner Brothers, 1978

http://www.doobiebros.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/05/2016

The Doobie Brothers’ best-selling album of the 1970s was the first real album that established Phase Two of the band. Takin’ It To The Streets brought in singer Michael McDonald and introduced some pop and white soul elements, creating a yin/yang disc that was quite good, while Livin’ On The Fault Line was mostly forgettable and a bit awkward in reconciling the band’s two personas.

Minute By Minute completely does away with the Doobies of old. This is now McDonald’s band, and he wasted no time singing his way to the top of the charts with the wistful and very good “What A Fool Believes” and, to a lesser extent, the title track. At this point, Tom Johnston had left the band for health reasons, and both Pat Simmons’ and Skunk Baxter’s guitars are subsumed in favor of pianos and keyboards, while the boogie rock of five years ago has been largely abandoned in favor of the white funk/soul sound so prevalent in yacht rock of the late 1970s.

Not that it’s a bad record by any means, nor is it really a good one, with about half the songs living up to the standards heretofore set. Although not deserving of its Grammies considering what else came out in 1978 (shock!), it’s still a solid pop record, with a cool demeanor that makes it a guilty pleasure. “Dependin’ On You” shows Simmons evolving his songwriting to fit the new approach; there’s a tiny bit of DNA between this song and anything on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Captain And Me, but far more similarities between this and any Steely Dan record you care to name. Not surprising, since McDonald and Baxter both sat in with the acerbic duo from time to time, but if your knowledge of this band begins and ends with “Black Water” alone, you probably won’t like much of this record.

Part of that is because McDonald now dominates the songs and the band; his soulful, emotional style is in contrast to Simmons’ good-time boogie, and predictably his songs are the better ones here as the band follows in his footsteps. “Don’t Stop To Watch The Wheels” threatens to go somewhere but never does, “Sweet Feelin’” is so pleasant and innocuous that it fades from memory as it plays, while “Steamer Lane Breakdown” is hilariously out of place, an instrumental bluegrass stomp that would have been corny even on Toulouse Street.

My argument in favor of the Doobies has been that their melancholy streak informs their best songs regardless of who sings them. Casual fans may prefer “Black Water” and “China Grove,” but the band’s best songs occur when the mood turns darker and there’s time for reflection, such as “Toulouse Street,” “Ukiah,” “I Cheat The Hangman,” “Takin’ It To The Streets,” and “What A Fool Believes.” And Minute By Minute follows that trend. You’ll remember the wistful songs long after the uptempo ones fade from memory. Witness the intricacy of “You Never Change,” the penultimate and second-best song here, as evidence of this; it’s a song with layers, tasteful guitar licks, and harmony singing over a deceptively peppy beat, and it begs repeated listens.

Taken as a whole, the disc is moderately successful and, without question, the last good/great album the band ever recorded. If you’ve not heard any of it besides the hits or like the band’s older stuff, it’s definitely worth checking out if for no other reason than to bookend a decade of good albums by a band that never got the credit it deserved.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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