Hearing Aide: The Doobie Brothers’ ‘Southbound’ – Rock With a Country Twist

When I heard that The Doobie Brothers were making a greatest hits album and invited some of today’s most talented country singers to accompany them, I was over the moon thrilled. I immediately flashed back on one of my favorite albums, Common Thread, from 1993, where country music greats came together to record some of The Eagles most loved tunes of the 70’s. There is just something about the rock of the 70’s and today’s country music that blends the two perfectly into a classic sound.

The Doobie Brothers Southbound features some of country music’s legendary performers such as Vince Gill, Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, and Sara Evans, with some of today’s most talented newcomers, such as The Zac Brown Band, Hunter Hayes, Chris Young, Casey James, Tyler Farr, Jerrod Niemann, Sudano Ramirex of Johnnyswim, and Charlie Worsham. Without even hearing one note on the album, I was anxious to see what I had in store with this who’s who of guest appearances.

The album starts out with “Black Water” (with Zac Brown Band); this has to be one of my favorite all time Doobie Brothers tunes. I can think of no other country group I would love to accompany them today on the song. Always thought Zac’s voice was reincarnated from the 70’s rock era, a James Taylor sound for sure. The Zac Brown Band’s southern laidback sound combines perfectly together with the bluesy groove of the music and lyrics to deliver an over the top remix that possibly is better than the original. “Black Water”, originally the B-side of the release of ”Another Park, Another Sunday”, was written and performed by Patrick Simmons, who once again nails the tune confirming any doubt that B-sides were most definitely worth the listen.

Tom Johnson’s tune, “Listen to the Music”, features Blake Shelton accompanying on lyrics and Hunter Hayes on guitar. This song, one of the first big hits of The Doobie Brothers career, remains a staple as an encore song at all of their live shows. Originally written as a tribute to peace at a time of influx in the world, the idea of all those in power were to take a moment to just come together and listen to the music, a universal language, perhaps peace could be attained; it sounds like a message that still holds true today. With Blake Shelton’s strong lyrics accompanying Tom Johnson on vocals, the duo deliver a one-two punch that sends the message as the newcomer Hunter Hayes shreds the guitar like the pro he is. This rockabilly sound sends a message still today that no matter what generation hears it or performs it, the message is timeless and the concept of a universal language of peace is attainable if we could all just find a common ground in music.

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The next track on the new album, “What a Fool Believes”, is a Grammy Award winning hit of the Doobie Brothers and happens to be one of the only non-disco number one hits of 1979. Written by Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, this commercial hit was an example of how The Doobie Brothers were able to maintain their own unique sound while accomplishing commercial success during a time where rock and roll was not in the forefront on commercial radio. With Sara Evans accompanying Michael McDonald on “What a Fool Believes”, this track is yet another perfect pairing of musicians showcasing and blending together their voices in perfect unison.

For country music lovers, Toby Keith is the epitome of a regular guy that pulls no punches. His in your face, this is what I am, and this is what I represent personality is the perfect pairing for The Doobie Brothers on “Long Train Runnin”. It could be the harmony, the rocking guitar, the awesome harmonica, or the upbeat melody, but this song, like Toby, pulls no punches and delivers the perfect example of timeless classic rock and the perfect combination of country music today and how rock and roll of the 70’s has influenced so many country artists today.

Chris Young, one of today’s up-and-coming country artists, who won the competition ‘Nashville’, is tearing up the charts with hits and as he accompanies The Doobie Brothers on “China Grove”, it’s evident why he is one of today’s country greats. As he sings together with The Doobie Brothers, I can barely tell where they end and he begins as they seamlessly harmonize on this 1973 hit. I must point here that on this song especially, it is a shining example of how absolutely talented The Doobie Brothers are in their songwriting and instrumental composition. On this number, it is as though each instrument is a feature instrument, however together they are a harmony. There are moments that the bass is strong and the underlying bass and percussion take center stage. Then there are parts where you hear keyboards foremost in the spotlight. When you think you can’t get any better, they break out in a guitar solo. I love this song as it’s upbeat and catchy, but I truly appreciate this song as its composition is epic.

The next track, written and performed with Love & Theft, “Take It To the Streets”, was another example of great pairing. Michael has a very distinctive voice, and the vocal accompaniment by Eric & Stephen was spot on, together with some outstanding guitar accompaniment.

For those of you unfamiliar with Casey James, he is the very talented country musician best known from American Idol’s ninth season. On “Jesus is Just Alright”, The Doobie Brothers version of the Arthur Reid Reynolds song, Casey’s amazing guitar abilities are emphasized. At one point in time, Casey was unsure of his ability to be able to play guitar again. Suffering major damage after a crippling motorcycle accident, Casey’s recovery is nothing short of a miracle. I find it refreshing as I realized how The Doobie Brothers were able to embrace their faith during a time where faith was questioned by many in the 70’s, and fitting this song was for Casey’s accompaniment.

Another Tom Johnson song, this time he is joined by one of Country’s biggest stars, Brad Paisley on “Rocking Down the Highway”. is a feel good song written by Tom in the early Doobie Brothers days and just up Brad’s alley, as it features not only his amazing vocals, but also his talents on the guitar.

“Take Me In Your Arms”, finds The Doobie Brothers joined by newcomer Tyler Farr.  With his raspy voice, the soulful sound of this R&B tune mixes perfectly with Tyler’s style of rock and delivered with heartfelt emotions that mixes country and rock to make the trifecta of musical composition.

Joined by Jerrod Niemann on “South City Midnight Lady” and released on their third album The Captain and Me in 1973, this beautiful ballad is unique to the style of The Doobie Brothers, being melodic and slower paced than other hit songs.  However when it comes to love ballads, Jerrod Niemann is your man to deliver, and deliver they all did.

For those of you not familiar yet with Johnnyswim, you will be in for a treat as Amanda Sudano Ramirex of Johnnys sings on their mega hit “You Belong to Me”.  And if that wasn’t enough, let’s just throw in a touch of Vince Gill’s guitar, who is one of the best musicians in Nashville, to really tear it up like no other can. Super sexy was this rendition of the song as Sudano accompanies Michael McDonald in this duet.

Another newcomer is Charlie Worsham.  He’s one of those country performers that takes his musical ability and goes right out in the audience with his banjo/ganjo/guitar and makes you part of the song.  This is no different as he plays on “Nobody”, a perfect song for Charlie, and to close out this outstanding album.

The Doobie Brothers
The Doobie Brothers

As I wrap up listening to this remarkable collaborative effort, I feel as though I am experiencing one of the greatest times in country music as we see those rock stars of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s becoming part of a new country experience.  With a basis in blues, jazz, rock, and bluegrass, this Southern rock style that was once indicative of the 1970’s is now becoming the trend in today’s country music.  You see many of these rock and country collaborations on CMT’s Crossroads. Their ability to pair the perfect rock group and country musician to cross perform songs of each other is truly one of my favorites. It’s the marriage of the best of both worlds into one spectacular sound. As most genres, it evolves, taking on new characteristics of other influences.  But one thing holds true.  Music is a common language to those on both sides of the microphone.  Tune in November 5 as The Doobie Brothers perform live at this years CMA Awards together with some of todays biggest country artists around.

Key Tracks: Black Water, Long Train Running, You Belong To Me