Album Review – The Doobie Brothers’ Southbound Sees Current Country Artists Tackle Classic Hits

Classic rock artists having current country stars cover their hits seems to be a new trend. This all really began, if memory serves me correctly, when Lionel Richie put out an album of current country artists covering his biggest hits. It went over great and Richie has even said he has thought about doing another album like that one. This year alone we’ve had a tribute album to The Allman Brothers, a terrible Mötley Crüe tribute album and mainstream country artists even attempted to cover the great Merle Haggard’s greatest songs. Now we have The Doobie Brothers doing that exact same thing. Did you really think The Doobie Brothers just showed up at 2014 CMA Awards for nothing? All about business and promotion, baby. Personally I enjoyed their performances, although I thought Jennifer Nettles brought them down a little with her terrible dancing. Nevertheless, let’s go through another classic rock tribute album done by mainstream country artists. It can’t be as bad as the Mötley Crüe one, right?

The Best Songs on the Album

Well I’ll tell you right up front that this is better than the Crüe tribute album, but that isn’t saying much. There are some definite bright spots on this album. The Zac Brown Band fits perfectly with “Black Water.” Southern fried country is Zac Brown Band, so of course they do great with a southern roots rock song. Keep in mind this review is slightly different from normal reviews because I’m judging more of how the artist covers the song and the choices made by production rather than the song itself. The signifier of a great cover to me is if it does justice to the integrity of the song and yet makes it feel fresh. The Zac Brown Band nails both of these aspects. They already did justice to their cover of The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” earlier this year with Vince Gill and they deliver again with this Doobie Brothers cover.

The choice of Sara Evans for “What a Fool Believes” is a fantastic choice. It’s higher pitched and perfectly suits a dynamic female voice. This song is a great reminder of how great Evans’ vocals are and how I wish she was still on radio. It’s evident The Doobie Brothers and Evans have good chemistry, making for a great cover. You may not like this song and I understand that completely because it could get annoying after several plays. But give credit to Evans doing a grade A job with this cover. You’ll never believe who else does a great job on this album: Tyler Farr. He covers “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me)” and hits a home run. The heavy rock influence suits Farr’s rough voice and style, which makes for a great cover. Farr makes it his own and still pays homage to the sound of the song. He stands out and shines beside The Doobie Brothers. His vocal range is stretched a little, but he makes it work. I want to see more of this Farr and never again want to see the “Redneck Crazy” version of Farr.

“You Belong to Me” is covered by an artist I had never heard of before. Amanda Sudano Ramirez covers this song and does a fantastic job. She is one half of the indie duo Johnnyswim and is the daughter of the late “Queen of Disco,” Donna Summer. While her inclusion on an album of country artists is interesting since she’s more of a folk/blues singer, she really stands out. Her voice is great and I want to hear more of her music personally. Vince Gill plays guitar on this song and does phenomenal as always. The other song that stood out to me is Charlie Worsham covering “Nobody.” There’s a separate introduction to this track, giving it a special feel and for good reason Charlie Worsham does a great job with The Doobie Brothers on this song and it’s great to see an underrated artist like Worsham get this special attention. This is how a cover should be done and it’s a good way to close the album.

The Worst Songs on the Album

While there were these bright moments, there were also some downright puzzling moments. Take for instance “Long Train Runnin’.” The choice of Toby Keith for this song is at best puzzling. Really it’s a bad choice. This song is another higher pitched song that suits a female artist more so than a male artist, especially a male artist like Keith who doesn’t have dynamic vocals. I would have picked Carrie Underwood to cover this song. Keith just sounds so out-of-place and is stretching his vocals too far at times. Huey Lewis sounds great on the harmonica at least.

There’s one point in this album where there are three straight songs where I have the same criticism with each of them. When covering a song with the original artist it’s important not to get buried by the original artist. You should shine along side them and make the song sound new. Love & Theft does not do this on “Takin’ It to the Streets.” Casey James does not do this on “Jesus Is Just Alright” and Brad Paisley doesn’t do it on “Rockin’ Down the Highway.” It feels like they’re just in the background and contribute absolutely nothing to the song. They are all forgettable covers and you won’t remember them tomorrow.

This is all leads to perhaps the most puzzling choice of artist on the entire album. I would say “South City Midnight Lady” is the most serious toned song on the album. Who do they pick to cover it? Jerrod Niemann, the same artist who put out a song called “Donkey” and rapped alongside Pitbull earlier this year. This is a stupid choice, despite the fact Niemann does okay with the song. Just like those three songs above though, it’s not very memorable. The performance is dry and boring.

The Rest of the Album

Blake Shelton and Hunter Hayes cover “Listen to the Music.” This is an interesting duo to cover this song. Then again they decided to take a more pop country approach with this upbeat and memorable song, so it makes sense to put Blake and Hayes on this song. It was also a good move to put Hayes just on guitar and not have him sing. It would’ve been funny hearing him attempt to cover this song. The original is still better, but this isn’t a bad cover. It’s just a little too generic for my taste. Chris Young covers the upbeat “China Grove.” Even though I find Young’s voice to sound a little generic at times, I think he does a solid job covering the song. It seems to fit his comfort zone just right and Young doesn’t sound like he’s out of place at any point. He also reminds everyone that he has the chops to sing more dynamic songs and not the boring pop country he has put out recently.

Overall Thoughts

This is pretty much what I expected out of The Doobie Brothers’ Southbound album. There are some good moments, bad moments and boring moments. Most of the time cover albums prove to be pretty pointless from a quality and artistic standpoint. This is nothing but a quick cash grab. If I want to hear these songs I’ll go listen to the original versions, not bastardized versions with Toby Keith or Love & Theft. Cover albums work in when the artists actually collaborate together to create great, new versions of the song. The most recent example of a good cover album would be Mary Sarah’s Bridges earlier this year. You could tell Sarah actually spent a good amount of time with these artists and it shined through in the final product. Other than Bridges, I would say this is the best cover/tribute album I’ve seen put out by mainstream country music this year. Not a high bar to hurdle, but there was still a few covers worth listening to on Southland. I would recommend this album only if you’re a hardcore Doobie Brothers’ fan or if you like mediocre cover albums.

Grade: 6/10

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