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Blue-eyed soul (and some surprises)
for any season

Michael McDonald
Grainger "Soundstage" Studios
Chicago, IL
October 28, 2009
Michael McDonald Michael McDonald

Story and File Photos by Andy Argyrakis

Now that he's been in the music business nearly forty years, Michael McDonald can pull from a massive bag of tricks when he shapes his set lists. On the most obvious fronts, there's his time in the Doobie Brothers through several solo smashes, not to mention some collaborations with Steely Dan, tipping his hat to Motown, and in the case of this particular concert, several Yuletide tunes. Though Halloween hadn't hit when he set up shop at the always up close and engaging "Soundstage," his special in support of the new This Christmas (Razor & Tie) will fit perfectly alongside other holiday programming.

Thankfully though, McDonald didn't restrict the show to just seasonal standards, instead opening with the Doobies' soulful "It Keeps You Runnin,'" followed by a jazzed down version of his own "I Keep Forgettin.'" From there, he turned the normally dated 1980s production of "Sweet Freedom" into a sax-stacked funk arrangement before settling into the holiday spirit.

Old school jazz also took center stage on the self-penned "Every Time Christmas Comes Around," though "On This Night" unfortunately morphed into the insipid, all too smooth version of the same genre. A cover of Donnie Hathaway's "This Christmas" demonstrated the singer's blue-eyed soul authenticity, while "Come, O Come Emanuel" was flanked in radically different reggae beats.

Considering Christmas music is treasured by some and polarizing to those tired of the same old tunes covered countlessly, McDonald seemed to intentionally structure many of the winter tunes outside of predictable paths. The most impressive were a washboard and accordion-entrenched version of "Christmas On the Bayou" and the banjo/boogie-woogie slant of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (both of which echoed a surprisingly effective Crescent City/Cajun flavoring).

Though the quantity of Yuletide tunes got a bit cumbersome towards the end (coupled with several redos that won't make the final broadcast), McDonald closed on the high notes of fellow past band staples like "What a Fool Believes" and "Takin' It To the Streets." While those seemed like obvious but fitting conclusions, the crooner returned for an unexpected cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," which was simply a grand piano/electric organ jam that framed his booming pipes around the timeless tune.

This mixed bag of sorts is sure to translate to a unique episode that will highlight a variety of McDonald's styles and perhaps give those who've filed him in the sometimes unflattering "yacht rock" category a reason to reconsider his undeniably delightful vocals and unforeseen diversity. Check local listings for the upcoming December run date and also visit for the latest on the current "Soundstage" season.

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