Michael McDonald, "Wide Open" (BMG)
There' s lot of soul in Michael McDonald's latest album, "Wide Open," and this time most it is his own.
After three records of Motown covers and modern standards, as well as a Christmas album, McDonald has crafted a superior collection of his own songwriting collaborations, his first such effort since the fine "Blue Obsession" from 2000.
It's McDonald's voice and its soulful, instantly recognizable qualities that he has built his career on — including his stints with Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers and many years of solo work. There's plenty more of his sweet tones on the dozen songs on "Wide Open," in diverse settings.
Most of the compositions rely on McDonald's characteristic array of keyboards and solid percussion by drummer and co-producer Shannon Forrest.
A trio of tunes closing out an imaginary Side One — "Half Truth," ''Ain't No Good" and "Honest Emotion" — prominently feature electric or acoustic guitars and provide a charismatic change in the soundscape.
Elsewhere, Branford Marsalis and his soprano sax bring a ring of Sting to "Blessing in Disguise" and "Strong Enough" has the biggest dose of the blues, assisted by Robben Ford's guitar solo and New Orleans-style horns. "Hurt Me" could be from the Doobies' heyday.
Lyrically, there's romance all around. Though these relationships require work, there are plenty of tears and nothing comes easy. Still, McDonald's vocals have that therapeutic trait which provides ample hopes and dreams.
The therapy sessions are not brief — most songs approach six minutes, or more — but show Michael McDonald's heart, soul and voice open for business again. Wide open.