Along with Daryl Hall, Michael McDonald is the prime exponent of blue-eyed soul. He's got a voice so beautifully husky that it carries the weakest material. He sings with passion, he has taste, and he can hire the very best sidemen.
McDonald's chart-toppers with the Doobie Brothers dominate his new greatest-hits set, The Ultimate Collection, an overlong 19-track disc that sags in the middle, but winds up surprisingly strong. Although the St. Louis native is best known for his work with Steely Dan and the Doobies in the '70s and '80s, he's spent the new millennium resurrecting Motown, one of his key influences. His take on the Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell hit "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" launches Collection, but it pales next to the original. Fortunately, the Doobie hit "What a Fool Believes" follows. Clearly, sequencing isn't the strength of this album.
Some hits date badly, like "Yah Mo B There," McDonald's duet with James Ingram. Others are simple mismatches, like "On My Own," a strained effort with the frequently overwrought Patti LaBelle. But some more modern cuts work well, like the rich "I Stand for You." Slick, expertly played, and largely soulful, Collection presents a moderate talent with a major voice.