Michael McDonald and Robben Ford, “Judgement Day” from Unfinished Business (2013): One Track Mind

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If your complaint about Michael McDonald’s brand of city-slicker soul – dating all the way back to the Doobie Brothers – was that it lacked a certain grease-popping earthiness, “Judgement Day” certainly bolsters the argument.

Paired with groove-merchant Robben Ford, McDonald’s “Judgement Day” has a ballsy gumption that smoothed-out pop hits like “Real Love” — not to mention his more recent plasticine Motown remakes — could scarcely aspire to. I’d argue that this is the setting he should have been working in all along, being as he fits so perfectly into the down-home, shotgun-shack rattling vibes that Ford is laying down here.

It’s an utterly plain-spoken atmosphere, real and so very right, and the results are stunning in their simplicity: “Judgement Day” finds Michael McDonald dialing back the vocal tics that sometimes consume his performances these days; instead, he sings with a fiery, unfettered determination. Part of a forthcoming EP called Unfinished Business that’s due digitally on May 7, 2013 via Chonin Records, “Judgement Day” is quite frankly one of the very best things McDonald has done.

Thank Robben Ford. He unleashes a nasty solo — it’s simmering, and then serrated — that works in perfectly attenuated counterpoint. Ford, of course, is as capable of delicately conveyed thoughts as anyone of his generation, having sat in with everyone from Miles to Beatle George to Joni Mitchell. Given a chance to cut loose here, though, he does just that — playing with a snarling attitude. And Michael McDonald responds in kind.

As first tastes go, “Judgement Day” couldn’t create a bigger appetite for their upcoming extended collaboration.

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