|The Doobie Brothers - The Captain and Me|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Tuesday, 15 January 2002|
Very likely just looking at the cover of this album – showing the band in period costume on and around a stagecoach parked under a ruined freeway bridge that had partially collapsed in a 1971 California earthquake – will bring back memories of the early ‘70s and the music of the time. Released in 1973, this was the Doobies’ third album, following the success of Toulouse Street and the hit single "Listen To The Music." It signified a high point in the band’s early period, and achieved a level of success that did not return until the outfit had completely metamorphosed into something else a little under a decade later.
Here the Doobies, already with two drummers, are augmented by some interesting additional forces, notably Jeff Baxter, who was later to join the band, and -- perhaps more interestingly -- the synthesizer duo of Bob Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil, formerly famed as Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, but by this time probably better known for their work with Stevie Wonder. There are some very sophisticated synth parts on this album, particularly in the bridge to the opening track, "Natural Thing." Bear in mind that synths were monophonic – one note at a time – in those days, and these chords had to be built up painstakingly note by note on different tracks.
The big hit from this album was the second cut, "Long Train Runnin’," which was one of the band’s biggest all-time chart successes as far as singles were concerned. "China Grove," the following number, was also a sizeable hit. "Dark Eyed Cajun Woman" shows an evident Southern blues influence and features an impressive string arrangement.
Most of the strengths of this album for modern listeners are up at the front end. The last cut on what was originally Side 1, "Clear as the Driven Snow," with its drug theme, sounds very dated when heard today. While there is at least one outstanding cut on the rest of the album, notably "South City Midnight Lady," with its wistful feel and stunning pedal steel part (Baxter), by the time you get this far, you have arguably heard the best numbers. The fact that the title track, with its hints of psychedelia, is left until last, is surely a little odd.
This Warners DVD-A/V release is unusual (for them) in that it is dual-sided. One side contains 24/192 kHz (DVD-A) and 24/96 (DVD-V) stereo mixes with no noticeable difference between them, presumably re-transfers of the original album mix (I no longer own the original to check), while the other is a surround remix, impeccably performed as always by Elliot Scheiner. He has some fun here and there, throwing synth parts and other effects round the room, but in general, the mix offers a good solid soundscape extending through the entire 360 degrees and recapturing in surround, as far as I can remember, the feel of the original album. In addition to the MLP surround mix, which sounds excellent, there are Dolby and DTS versions for DVD-V listeners, full lyrics and a photo gallery: not a bad spread.
Listening to this album today, you may well find, as I did, that it sounds a good deal more uneven than you thought it did when you heard it nearly 30 years ago. Time and recreational substances may have taken their toll, but even so, there are some choice cuts on this surround remix that still stand the test of time. Enjoyable for fans, no doubt. For the rest of us: see what you think.