Classic Rock Review

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The Doobie Brothers The Captain and Me (1973)

The_Doobie_Brothers-The_Captain_And_Me-Frontal[1]From amazon.com

The Bay Area of Northern California was, through the latter part of the 60’s and into the early 70’s, an encampment of musical ideology that utilized “fusion” in the creative spark. And that applies beyond the common genre of fusion jazz.

The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Country Joe & The Fish, and Big Brother & The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, were all vanguards of fusion rock in the counter-culture movement. Rock, blues, jazz, folk, gospel, R&B, far-eastern, latin, and other world-wide elements of music were infused into contemporary music and experimentation was the measure of success.

In 1971, The Doobie Brothers drew all the best elements of this front line together to make a successful sound that was unique in its own right and polished to a winning accessibility. Their initial album went un-noticed in general, other than by the locals who knew them from live shows and from local chapters of The Hells Angels who had formed a particular strong following of the group.

It was 1972’s release of Toulouse Street that jettisoned The Doobie Brothers into the hands of soon-to-be admirers like myself. And based upon that wonderful music and the singles tossed out in conjunction with the release of The Captain And Me, this “second” masterpiece gave us even more of the wonder and awe.

The first noticeable feature of this band was the easy blend of acoustic and electric, not just a counter-balance of one to the other but a total homogenization of the two into a sort of Simon & Garfunkel meets Jefferson Airplane and they had twins and named them The Doobie Brothers. The other in-your-face fact was the songwriting was so crafty and elegant whether it was a driving rocker or a soft folk-jazz song. The band had some top of the mountain talent.

Two drummers playing off of each other, a bassist with pure busy and punchy bass lines in a distinctive tone with a unique picking style, three part harmony vocals that easily separated into tiger-leads, and two lead guitars! And all that before you noticed the Memphis Horns and Little Feat’s Bill Payne rocking the pianos! In the same way which Toulouse Street instantly grabbed you, The Captain And Me forged forward with their sound. This time they added an extra accent on the last syllable, they paid out of work Steely Dan guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter for some canny pedal steel.

Most Doobie Bros fans fall into one of three camps: the fans of the original Tom Johnston led group, the Michael McDonald influenced outgrowth group (often referred to as “Doobie Dan” by the former fans), and those (like myself) who love all things Doobie from inception to jaded. The Doobie Dan moniker stuck with them from Takin’ It To The Streets even though Jeff Baxter had actually joined the group a couple albums earlier and actually began his session playing on a few songs of this album, but it mainly came up after Michael began to write songs and sing leads after Tom left.

Yes, The Doobie Brothers did gravitate more to R&B influences after that, but the unique “sound”, the “it” that made The Doobie Brothers, the Doobie Brothers, that has always been, with or without Tom. You see, if you listen closely to Toulouse Street and this album, and pay particular attention to each song, then go play Takin’ It To The Streets and do the same again, I assure you, you will notice the thread there. The cosmopolitan Bay Area truth that bares open the San Francisco scene musically, the synthesis that fused elemental musics together to become the “voice” of a generation.

The reality of The Captain And Me compared to Toulouse Street, is that Captain was a rush order job based upon the sales of the former. Tom Johnston had to rework some “old” tunes to come up with the final set list. For me, the opening track on each side of the record album, “Natural Thing”, and “Without You” were both the weakest moments on the album along with “Evil Woman”. All these years late I have not changed my mind and therefore, Captain still takes a back seat to Toulouse Street. The real magic in this album, which is outstanding meat, are the well crafted everything else, including the two hit singles “Long Train Runnin'” and “China Grove” both of which are just groovy electric guitar songs, the former being richly endowed with that whole train rhythm thing. The ultra bluesy “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman” and the southern-rock blues of “South City Midnight Lady” capture more pure essence of Doobie Brothers than either of the opening side tracks.

Cajun Woman has a beautiful guitar pluck and Midnight Lady just feels all folky and jazzy with that pedal steel from Skunk. “Clear As The Driven Snow” is real song-craft. Beginning with an acoustic guitar round of two circling guitars, the revolutions duly increase speed as the wind blows and when the drums beat in, The Doobies three-part harmonies carry us to the crescendo finale. The same kind of skills are utilized in the three segued final acts, “Busted Down Around O’Connelly Corners”, “Ukiah”, and the title track. “Busted…” plays again with encircling guitars that typify a crossroads to “Ukiah” where the synthesizer accents on electric and acoustic guitars work much better than in “Natural Thing”. The melody is catchy, folky, and in a Creedence sort of way, the country is pleasantly electrified.

This “sacred land”scape works its way into your ears, you can actually smell the pines of Northern California. As the harmony vocals and guitars softly descend into “The Captain And Me” where encircling guitars once again stage our ceremony, the “starship” is ready to take off. Built around harmony vocals, banjos, acoustic guitars, and inspired drum exchanges, the song mutates per Doobie fashion into gospel soul rock. Tom has gone on record to say the song was composed at the last minute without any real meaning to the lyrics, but regardless of that fact, it is one of the finest compositions in their arsenal. So how about them apples?

The Doobie Brothers did find a formula for success as is apparent with just the first four releases: Toulouse Street charted at #21, The Captain And Me at #7, and What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits went to #4 and Stampede also clocked in at #4.

I still consider Toulouse Street as The Doobie Brothers album because of the effect it had on me. Read my review of that one there. Critical responses call The Captain And Me or Minute By Minute (depending on your camp) their biggest and best, but each and every album has its own independent merits that makes it a great album, so unabashedly I think that the response to judgment of Doobies albums is entirely emotional and based upon the listeners own experience. I usually end up listening to them in this order: Toulouse Street, The Captain And Me, What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, Stampede, Takin’ It To The Streets, Minute By Minute. Get it? And how do I rate them all? 5 big whopping stars for every one of them. Which one is my favorite? Today it is Toulouse Street, next Tuesday it might be Stampede.

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January 4, 2014 - Posted by | The Doobie Brothers The Captain And Me |

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