Liberté

The Doobie Brothers

DB Entertainment/Island/UMG, 2021

http://www.doobiebros.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/28/2022

I’m not entirely sure how I became the Vault expert on the Doobie Brothers. I was born three years after they first broke up and became familiar with them through classic rock radio and my dad’s record collection, which I grant you is the time-honored way to discover great artists. But outside of their debut, I’ve been the sole reviewer for this good-time boogie-rock band for our esteemed site.

More than their individual albums, the hits this band made in the 1970s have endured on all number of compilations, bar band playlists, jukeboxes, bowling alleys, classic rock radio playlists, dentists, you name it. Wherever there is music and a lot of white people—often with beer involved, in some fashion—you will eventually hear “Black Water,” “Listen To The Music,” “Rockin’ Down The Highway,” “China Grove,” “Long Train Runnin’,” “Jesus Is Just Alright,” “Takin’ It To The Streets” and/or “What A Fool Believes.” These songs are not deep, but they are catchy.

Through the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, and ’10s, the band slowly lost members but continued to tour and play the hits, occasionally releasing a mostly-ignored new album, the way a lot of ’70s acts have wound up doing. The latest of these is my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Liberté, the band’s first original album in 12 years and second in 22 years. There have of course been live and compilation albums in that time, but that’s not important here. Of note: when we say “band,” we mean Tom Johnston and Pat Simmons, plus John McFee (who joined up just as the band was breaking up in 1980). None of the ’70s supporting cast, nor Michael McDonald, make an appearance.

So the voices of the Doobies are present… or are they? If you didn’t see the name on the cover, you could be forgiven for hearing this album and thinking it was a Bon Jovi/Jason Aldean tribute band, with a hint of Springsteen. There’s very little that links this music to the band’s past, which is both a blessing and a detriment. A blessing, because nobody is reaching for past glories, trying to write a hit that sounds like “Black Water” or anything like that. A detriment, because the band has lost its identity, choosing to write anonymous feel-good pseudo-country anthems. These are pleasant, inoffensive, good-time songs meant to be played on country rock radio next to Luke Bryan or shuffled within a background playlist at a chain restaurant that you barely notice while you chow down on mozzarella sticks and Bud Light.

I’ve long said that the best Doobies songs aren’t necessarily the hits, and digging into their albums will yield a surprisingly melancholy, compelling writing streak that most people never appreciated. But here, there is no such thing. The guys aren’t trying to write hits, but they’re not stretching their creative muscles either, sticking firmly in a middle-of-the-road, mid-tempo, feel-good rut for 12 songs. You won’t remember much of anything when this is over.

The true highlight is “Just Can’t Do This Alone,” which has some depth and soul and really feels like the first time you’re listening to the same band that made the uniformly excellent “I Cheat The Hangman” so many years ago. But that’s the 10th song on a 12-song album, too little / too late to rescue this release. Maybe a couple of these songs get slotted in between the hits on the band’s next state fair and zoo tour, and people will smile and nod along while they wait patiently for “Long Train Runnin’” to start, because that’s about the extent of the ambition here.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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