31 Days of Faves: Nathan East (Featuring Michael McDonald) – Moondance

#24 Nathan East (Featuring Michael McDonald) – Moondance

It took Van Morrison over seven years to release “Moondance” as a single. The track from his 1972 album of the same name was, by then, in most of our libraries. But such was its popularity that it cracked the Billboard Hot 100 during a brief prime as a 45.

The composition has had hundreds of covers. When the ubiquitous sideman, Nathan East decided to release a collection under his own name, “Moondance” was one of 14 eclectic tunes to make the cut.

East’s rich Rolodex includes Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Tommy Emmanuel and Daft Punk. We hear Stevie’s Harmonica on “Sir Duke” and Clapton’s classic vocals on Steve Winwood‘s “Can’t Find My Way Home“.

But it’s Michael McDonald who is clearly enjoying every minute of his contributions to a rocking big band arrangement that makes “Moondance” a memorable collaboration.

The recording begins with East’s solo bass line. Michael’s initial vocals are almost whispered, making for a sensual combination that leaves the listener wondering where the two will take the tune. It’s when the first burst of horns and drums fire things up that you know you’ve found a treasure.

It’s impossible not to sway with the shuffle beat and East plumbs relationships built over more than 2000 sessions to entice sax master Tom Scott and trumpeter Chuck Findley to join in the fun. All Music’s Andy Kellman rightly compares McDonald’s wailing vocals to Arthur Brown‘s soaring screams in his one hit wonder, 1968’s “Fire“.

Just when things peak, East takes it back down to pianissimo volume, ending the track just the way it started.

I’m a sucker for big band arrangements. Horn bands like Chicago, Lighthouse and Blood, Sweat and Tears, and the white hot arrangements that Maurice King and others put behind live Motown performances are among my all time favorites (Listen to the live version of the Spinners, “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” to get a sense for King’s chops). So Nathan East’s “Moondance” totally had me hooked when the 18 piece backing group kicked in.