The Doobie Brothers/Liberté/Island
3.5 Out of Five Stars
There’s something to be said for a band that manages to maintain total consistency throughout a 50-year career. So credit the Doobie Brothers for achieving exactly that, despite periodical shifts in its line-up and a mid-’80s hiatus that lasted five years.
Preceded by a four-song self-titled EP released earlier this year, which offered a selective sneak peek for fans and followers, Liberté, the band’s first new release in seven years, finds Doobies mainstays Tom Johnston, Pat Simmons, and John McFee making their first studio foray in seven years, and ready to roll out on tour with Michael McDonald back in the band as well.
That in itself is a big deal of course, and while McDonald wasn’t involved in the making of the new album, there’s still plenty of cause for celebration for Doobies devotees. Liberté finds the Grammy-winning band and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees reviving the signature sound they honed prior to McDonald’s arrival. Echoes of the early classics “Listen to the Music,” “Rockin’ Down the Highway,” “Taking It to the Streets,” and “China Grove” dominate the album, with several tracks—“Oh Mexico,” “Wherever We Go,” “Easy,” and “Just Can’t Do This Alone” in particular—serving as flashbacks of sorts, as if they were rescued from the vault, recently resurfaced and newly revived. That’s borne out by the trademark qualities that defined them early on—the propulsive rhythms, the celebratory shout-outs, and a decidedly driving delivery. As a result, any one of those aforementioned offerings could easily take their place alongside the aforementioned standards and in fact, will likely do so in the years to come.
The spirit of renewal is manifest in an upbeat mood that reaches beyond the music and effectively permeates the effort overall. The album title itself translates into English as “liberation,” with songs such as “Better Days” and “Amen Old Friend” nodding to the past while looking towards the future. That sense of nostalgia is especially apparent in an unabashedly upbeat anthem “The American Dream,” its chorus heralding the youthful exuberance recalling what it was like with the top down and the radio on, we were dancing in the street… we were wild and we were free.
Clearly then, Liberté is more than a momentary return. It’s a very real attempt to turn back the clock and somehow reconnect with a time when optimism still reigned and possibility seemed apparent. The jaded amongst us may consider it merely wishful thinking, but even they ought to credit the Doobies for providing a soundtrack rife with nostalgia and novelty.