When Thundercat sought out partners for his latest album, Drunk, he turned to such modern-day heavy hitters as Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa and Pharrell. On the song “Show You the Way,” however, the cosmic producer landed a few experienced icons: yacht-rock patron saints Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. The resulting collaboration is properly smooth– after all, the duo co-wrote the enduring Grammy winner “What a Fool Believes”– and sounds beamed in from a vintage episode of Casey Kasem’s American Leading 40. However McDonald’s golden-voiced, emotional warbling fits the vibe of the tune, and his reverb-slathered solo parts add gravitas.
Yet “Program You the Method” isn’t a case of McDonald being dragged into the studio as a token veteran artist. As Thundercat informed Red Bull Music Academy, the imaginative cooperation was profoundly satisfying.” [McDonald] would go through numerous ideas and have so much to offer. The minute you would state, ‘Do that once again,’ he ‘d be like, ‘Do exactly what?’ It was magical, just to see it. Then he resembled, ‘Let me take it home for a little while.’ He would send me a voice memo, and I would break down weeping, man.”
McDonald, who hits Star of the Desert Arena in Primm on August 5, has that impact on musicians. Simply ask indie band Grizzly Bear, which tapped him for guest vocals on 2009 song “While You Await the Others,” or R&B singer Solange, who employed him to duet on “Exactly what a Fool Believes” with her at a Florida festival previously this year. The snow-haired crooner been gently lampooned for many years– significantly in an SCTV sketch involving singing backup for Christopher Cross– but, in innovative circles, the St. Louis local is extensively appreciated these days.
It assists that McDonald’s solo work and contributions to the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan are unironically hip again. That’s thanks in part to the electronic-based vaporwave movement, whose beachy technique sounds indebted to soft rock, not to point out the proliferation of yacht-rock tribute bands (see: The Guilty Satisfactions) and pleased hours, like LA’s Soft Rock Sunday. In truth, this breezy music, long maligned for its smoothness, has actually been welcomed for its warm production and pristine consistencies. That the vinyl revival has offered these records brand-new life is the umbrella in the tropical beverage.
For his part, McDonald seems video game to satirize himself and his role in this movement. On an episode of 30 Rock, he happily belted out the line, “This country has 600 million kidneys/And we truly only require half” throughout a phony charity single, and he as soon as sang on a late-night program with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, both dressed like him. But McDonald has actually also kept an open mind to new sounds: In a recent Stereogum interview, he applauded Mac DeMarco’s “initial musicality” and Dad John Misty’s lyrics. He also exposed that he recently tape-recorded an “EDM track” with Nile Rodgers and a DJ from Ireland.
McDonald’s upcoming new album, Wide Open, is more conventional. It’s far from staid, nevertheless: The record, due out September 15, is a well-crafted collection of funk-flecked smooth jazz (“Find It In Your Heart,” “True blessing in Disguise”), harmonica-laced blues-rock (“Half Truth”) and, yes, some prime ’80s R&B rave-ups (“Hurt Me”). Wide Open plays like an unassuming encapsulation of exactly what McDonald has always done well: keep his head down, sing his heart out and let his voice do the heavy lifting.
Michael Mcdonald August 5, 8 p.m., $30-$60. Primm’s Star of the Desert Arena, 702-382-4388.