The phenomenal talent that is Michael MacDonald will release ‘Wide Open’ via BMG, his first studio album in over nine years. The album will feature collaborations with guitarist-singer Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers Band, Gov't Mule), guitarist Robben Ford, bassist Marcus Miller and saxophonist Branford Marsalis. The album which follows a trio R&B/soul cover LPs for Motown, the most recent being 2008's Soul Speak – marks the singer-songwriter's first set of original material in 17 years. McDonald wrote Wide Open over several years and recorded the tracks at his Nashville studio with drummer Shannon Forrest (Faith Hill, Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw, Toto) and a crew of the city's session players.
When Michael McDonald was a teenager he played as a member of one of the countless pick-up bands that famously backed the late Chuck Berry on the road.
“I remember seeing him show up that night — it was like something out of a rock and roll movie,” said the veteran singer and keyboardist, recalling a gig with Berry in the mid-1960s at the basement Castaway club in McDonald’s hometown of Ferguson, Mo. “He comes down the stairs with a guitar in his hand — no case, no cord — and stands there while the club owner peels off hundred-dollar bills. Then he turned and walked right onstage. And he just rocked the house.”
A half-century later, McDonald was the one dropping in to blow minds when he turned up at 2017 Coachella Festival for a surprise appearance with the jazz-funk bassist Thundercat. McDonald sat in with Thundercat’s trio for a vivid rendition of the latter’s “Show You The Way” then stuck around to do “What A Fool Believes” his late-’70s soft-rock hit with the Doobie Brothers. Both triggered wild cheers from the festival’s young audience.
With his white hair and wire-rimmed glasses, McDonald, 65, may have been an unlikely presence at Coachella, which also featured cameos by Drake and the hip-hop trio Migos. In fact, jamming with Thundercat was merely the latest in a series of intergenerational hook-ups for this icon of blue-eyed soul, who recently did “What a Fool Believes” with Solange at a festival in Florida; before that, he joined Thundercat during a 2016 concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
Other hip acts, from Grizzly Bear to Mac DeMarco, have been talking up McDonald’s music lately, drawing inspiration from classic songs like “I Keep Forgettin” and “Minute By Minute” the same way McDonald once did from Chuck Berry. Now he’s taking advantage of this resurgence to release a new album, his first set of original tunes in nearly two decades. Due in September, “Wide Open” sets McDonald’s gruff but heartfelt vocals — and his thoughts on romance and human nature — against arrangements that pull expertly from R&B, country and gospel.