Maria Muldaur's first record sits on the desk as this review is written. That vinyl disc has graced my shelves since 1964. Muldaur's official billing on the Even Dozen Jug Band
LP was "Maria D'Amato - 2nd voice" and she appeared on only three tracks. The Greenwich Village songstress was 21-years-old. That young woman is now 62 and sounding better than ever.
Joining the fledgling Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Muldaur worked with like-minded musicians, Geoff Muldaur, Fritz Richmond, Mel Lyman, Richard Greene and, of course, Kweskin himself. She was featured on a 1967 Reprise record titled Garden Of Joy
and her infectious voice, kazoo and tambourine grabbed many fans for the band. This writer is among them!
The glorious jug band days lasted less than a decade, but Muldaur came into prominence in a duo act with husband Geoff in the early 70s. In 1974, the singer struck gold with a rather unlikely song, "Midnight At The Oasis," for Reprise records. Following up with a number of great albums including Waitress In A Donut Shop
and Sweet Harmony
the singer seemed to lose her focus with Southern Winds
, an album that lacked the spirit of previous efforts.
In recent years, Muldaur has renewed her acquaintance with her longtime fans, offering great traditional material in the genres of jazz, blues and folk music. The association with smaller labels allowed her to follow her heart and this woman has a lot of heart.
The new release on Stony Plain Records finds Muldaur deep in the blues. Sweet Lovin' Ol' Soul
chronicles the women of the blues. Long overdue tributes are paid to Memphis Minnie, Lucille Bogan, Bessie Smith, Julia Lee and Sara Martin. Kicking off with Memphis Minnie's "I Am Sailin'", Muldaur wails over the accompaniment of guitarists Del Rey and Steve James. The tempo picks up and a mandolin is added to the mix for a spirited reading of "Long As I Can See You Smile." The listener's mind will immediately return to the golden days of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. The jug band revival is completed when the venerable Fritz Richmond joins the group for the title song. "Sweet Lovin' Ol' Soul" was originally waxed by Sara Martin in the 1920s. Suzy Thompson's good-time fiddle enforces the old jug band sound.
In keeping with her love affair with "bawdy" songs, Muldaur belts out "Ain't What You Used To Have" in a duet with Taj Mahal. It's a gem!
The tongue-in-cheek mood continues with this writer's favorite. Bessie Smith's "Empty Bed Blues" is classic bawdy blues. Maria Muldaur recruited Kevin Porter, a San Francisco trombonist. Porter convincingly plays the part once played by Charlie "Trombone Cholly" Green on Bessie's original recording. Add some dirty lowdown piano by Dave Mathews and Muldaur's heartfelt vocal and you have a perfect recording.
Guitarists Del Rey and Steve James rejoin the singer for "Tricks Ain't Walkin'" and "Crazy Cryin' Blues." Memphis Minnie is honored with a fine version of "She Put Me Outdoors" when Alvin Youngblood Hart shares the vocal with Muldaur.
W.C.Handy award winner Pinetop Perkins
and guitarist Steve Freund share the stage for another winning track "Decent Woman Blues." Just when you think that things can't get much better, Muldaur's old friend Tracy Nelson comes along with a rollicking version of "I'm Goin' Back." Taj Mahal returns to the stage for the final track, a traditional treatment of "Take A Stand."
Maria Muldaur delivers a gutsy and classy performance on this album. It would be very surprising if Sweet Lovin' Ol' Soul
doesn't win a couple of awards. 'Nuff said!