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Max on the Music: The Doobie Brothers: Minute By
Minute; Audio Fidelity AFZ 025, time, 39:30.
This release is a restoration and remastering of the 1978 Doobies' album, Minute By Minute, the technical aspects of which were managed by Steve Hoffman and which rise to his usual standard of excellence. This is a 24 karat+gold CD, an excellent medium for a standard CD stereo recording brought up to 2005 standards. It has captured the easy, relaxed groove of the Doobies as they were 27 years ago, and that is pretty acceptable to me, a welcome respite from the nerve-end music the major labels keep spitting at us nowadays. The laid-back sensibility of the group is viewed in the album artwork, all faithfully reproducing the original (if in smaller format), including a larger-than-life full page photo of a Doobie. Now I wish I had a 12" vinyl version of the album.
The knack of re-mastering old material is based on having good taste. Now there's a slippery concept for you. What is "taste"? What is "good taste?" I have thousands of LPs stacked away somewhere in my mom's garage. I can't get myself to give them away, or sell them to one of those vinyl collector shops. I'd have to cherry pick my way through them, make a list, decide why I'd like to keep this one and not that. The guys at Audio Fidelity are in the same position, well, an analogous position. They have to pay for the rights to various masters, so if they make a mistake about what is worth collecting, they could lose something more than chump change.
Back then, The Doobies had the foresight to include musicians like banjoist Herb Pedersen, and fiddler Byron Berline, on their instrumental "Steamer Lane Breakdown." This, on an album that would garner three Grammy® awards for "What A Fool Believes" (Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Vocal Arrangement) and a fourth Grammy® going to "Minute By Minute" (Best Pop Vocal Performance, Duo/Group). On this album are tunes with other touches, bongos here, a big brass section there. So the album was a proven entity, worthy of awards, alert enough to sense the coming Bluegrass revival. And relaxed enough to get you in that Doobie groove.
The performances are very well captured by the original master tapes, then remastered and transferred into the digital medium. I'd say, if you were into the Doobies back when we were all 27 years younger, and you thought you knew all the ins and outs of this album, you'll be delighted to hear the CD version, a recording that has no limit of dynamics, or clarity, or detail. You'll hear all those little things you might remember from back before your stylus tore up the grooves of your old LP. It's like getting to know one of your best friends again, a pal you grew up with and who has moved back to town after being away for 27 years. The lyrics will take on a new meaning. You might not feel as though the Doobies are speaking directly to you as you are now, but as you were as a young man. If any of my ranting has touched you, you probably have the personality of a collector, someone who values the past and wants to conserve its artifacts.
For all the collectors, I'd like to thank Marshall Blonstein's gang at Audio Fidelity for keeping the faith and keeping the good stuff of the past available on CD. I think recapturing the past is a worthy pursuit, as valuable for music as the restoring and bringing to the digital domain of our classic older films, such as Gone With The Wind. Certainly the Doobie Brothers were as central to the music scene as any band of their era. This restoration of Minute By Minute is worthy of your collector's soul. A must for collectors of a certain age.
This review also appears in the current issue of Audiophile Audition.