The Doobie Brothers released 8 albums between 1971 and 1978, arguably their most
prolific and commercially successful period. Live at Wolf Trap is the
Doob’s third live, and completely unnecessary, release. The musicianship is
solid, the execution flawless, but the overall feel is sterile. Michael
McDonald, who added balance and some blue eyed soul to the rock boogie sound of
the Doobies, is off doing his Motown covers thing and absent from this effort
(as well as the last several sporadic studio releases). Original members Tom
Johnston and Patrick Simmons, as well as Doobie Brother vets Keith Knudson (who
passed away earlier this year), John McFee and Michael Hossack, are still
present, along with several other supporting musicians and a horn section.
The disc features over 79 minutes of music and 17 tracks, and although the music
is well played, there are not enough interesting wrinkles, and when they do
appear, they fail. The saxophone solo added to “South City Midnight Lady” adds a
cheesy soft rock feel to a song that needs no tweaking.
Six of the tracks featured on this release appear on the two other live Doobie
Brother Records. If you include the original albums and these three live discs,
songs like “China Grove” and “Listen to the Music” appear on 4 different albums
in various forms (and that doesn’t include the many best-of records which
feature those tracks also). Do we really need 3 live versions of “Black Water”?
The band has experienced a lot since their 1971 debut album. There have been
personnel changes galore, with members leaving, returning, and leaving again.
There have been farewell tours, and even an appearance on the late 70’s sitcom
“What’s Happening” (when Rerun got caught illegally taping their concert). At
this point in their career, Live at Wolf Trap is overkill, a band
continuing to live off of its past legacy as opposed to cutting new ground.
Without the Michael McDonald material, the album just isn’t balanced enough, and
doesn’t explore the depth of the Doobie’s material. This disc is for hard core
Doobie Brother fans only who just can’t live without another live version of
“Jesus is Just Alright.” For those who might want to add a Doobies disc to their
collection might want to grab the very lean, hit filled, ll-track 1976 release,
Best of the Doobies. If you want a little more, 2001’s Listen to the
Music: The Very Best of the Doobie Brothers provides all you need and then
~R. David Smola