Eagle Rock Entertainment // 2010 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 6th, 2010
"Thanks for the opportunity to do this."
Nobody could ever accuse singer/songwriter Michael McDonald of being unwilling to get into the Christmas spirit. While many musical artists eventually get around to producing a Christmas album (usually comprised of one or two original songs plus a whole host of covers), McDonald has no less than four holiday-themed albums on his discography. As such, it's only appropriate that we should be graced with Michael McDonald: This Christmas, Live in Chicago, a concert primarily focused on permitting McDonald to grace us with his large catalogue of holiday tunes.
However, realizing that people do love him for tunes other than his cover of "Winter Wonderland," McDonald kicks things off with a trio of older numbers. "Some of you may remember The Doobie Brothers," he says politely. "We're gonna play some Doobie Brothers songs." So he does, offering energetic performances of "It Keeps You Runnin'," "I Keep Forgettin'," and "Sweet Freedom." The crowd at the concert is a somewhat reserved, middle-aged selection of folks who timidly clap and nod their hands as McDonald bellows away. The singer is in pretty solid form from the start, offering plenty of soulful enthusiasm in his performance if a little less discernable than usual in the enunciation department (unless the lyrics are actually, "Muh-bababa HUH ah wanna GOOOO HuhWaONNNNN! Unnnh!").
McDonald kicks off the Christmas set with a pair of original tunes, "Every Time Christmas Comes Around" and "On This Night." While the latter is a typically generic seasonal ballad, the former is actually built on a sturdy foundation of McDonald's unmistakably soulful style. These are solid enough, but things actually get better when he gets around to covering older tunes. His take on "This Christmas" smolders impressively, while he actually manages to make "Come, O Come Emmanuel" a pretty thrilling number by adding some delicious piano licks and a reggae rhythm. The performance is tight and innovative enough to take the tune from "Megachurch Christmas Special" material to something more memorable.
Things slow down a bit with an understated but flavorful performance of the "Wexford Carol," followed by the original composition "Christmas on the Bayou" (as you might expect, it's a lively number with a strong Cajun influence and fairly simplistic lyrics -- "Christmas on the Bayou, long before Mardi Gras!"). A sturdy but somewhat generic "I'll Be Home for Christmas," is next, followed by a charming cover of Stevie Wonder's "That's What Christmas Means to Me." McDonald covers "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" with a gentle ukulele arrangement and follows it with the equally low-key piano-driven number "Peace." The energy level starts to pick up a little again with a medley of "White Christmas/Winter Wonderland," which concludes the Christmas portion of the program. McDonald wraps things up by dipping into the Doobie Brothers catalogue again, offering "Minute by Minute," "What a Fool Believes" and (of course) "Takin' It to the Streets."
Michael McDonald: This Christmas, Live in Chicago arrives on Blu-ray sporting a sturdy 1080i/1.78:1 transfer that gets the job done quite nicely. While the concert is shot in a fairly standard-issue manner and the staging isn't anything to get excited about, the level of detail is solid and depth is good. What really matters on a release like this is the audio, which is fortunately quite strong throughout. The track is particularly strong on the low end, with a surprising amount of nuance and rather strong bass. Vocals are clear and well-mixed, and there's just enough crowd noise captured to reflect the live feeling without becoming distracting. The only extra on the disc is an additional song -- a solid cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
While not quite a must-own concert disc, Michael McDonald: This Christmas, Live in Chicago is a very pleasant affair that maintains McDonald's individual flavor despite the inclusion of numerous well-worn tunes. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Song