Sound — 8
"Minute by Minute" was my first experience of trying a Doobie Brothers album, on the back of hearing their classic hit "What a Fool Believes." "What a Fool Believes" is one of those tracks that are ubiquitous to the memory without being overplayed - you'll instantly recognize the chorus but struggle to name the song or artist. To my surprise, this soul classic came from not Earth, Wind & Fire but The Doobie Brothers, an all-white Californian rock band who apparently performed for and had cult status among the Hell's Angels bike gang in their early days. After Michael McDonald, formerly of Steely Dan, joined in 1976 and took over songwriting and lead vocal duties, the band were re-branded as jazz-inflected, "blue-eyed soul."
Arrangements tend to centre on staccato, funk piano, the relaxing pop of hand drums and of course the group's signature vocal harmonies. There are a few hints of the band's rock n roll roots; "Don't Stop to Watch the Wheels," with it's punchier drums and meandering, palm-muted guitar riff, "Depending on You," the only song to feature distorted, out-and-out rock guitar solos, and instrumental "Steamer Lane Breakdown" is also a standout for its addictive, chicken-picking bluesgrass acoustic style. Rhythm guitar twangs nicely through the album, the jazzy leads on closing track "How Do the Fools Survive" remind me of George Benson, and none of the instruments are too domineering; The Doobie Brothers definitely knew how to function as a unit and are more inclined to hold down grooves and serve the vocals, in spite of their obvious virtuosity. Guitarists Tom Johnstone and Patrick Simmons fit like a hand and glove, the latter being a talented fingerstyle player who laces Johnstone's rhythm and blues chords.
Lyrics — 8
The album mostly contains love songs, and it is easy to notice the running theme of being a loser in love and refusing to let go of delusions on songs like "Minute by Minute" and "What a Fool Believes." Michael McDonald showcases tenor vocals and can also relax the listener by crooning gently just behind the beat. Harmony groups are sorely missed within the modern music climate in my opinion, and the Doobies are a very decent example of how to write harmonies from the golden age of soul music. Other than "What a Fool Believes," the album is lacking choruses of that calibre, however generic lyrics don't trouble fist-pumping "...Stop to Watch the Wheels," which just about fits the bill of being their Eagles number.
Overall Impression — 8
Early into the album, I was concerned that many songs sounded similar and a little middle-of-the-road. The instrumentals are really slick throughout this album and actually improve and branch out later on, with the dreamy chord progression of "You Never Change" rising like smoke and "Steamer Lane Breakdown" providing a refreshing detour into country music. However, somehow the whole is less than the sum of the parts on "Minute by Minute." I think it lacks the edge to be a real classic, feeling overly clean and sickly in places. The group also sounds straight out of seventies California. I would recommend the album to fans of the Eagles and Steely Dan, as well as fans of '70s soul harmony groups, though maybe The Doobie Brothers walked too fine a line between the two genres to reach the highest tier of either. This is no slight on their musical abilities, which shine on eighth album "Minute by Minute."