Maria Muldaur has committed herself in recent years to honoring the great blues women of the past. Her May 15th release of Naughty, Bawdy & Blue takes us back to the 1920s and 30s, a time when the music was not polished and slick like it is today. There were not gizmos, gadgets and technology to make music more appealing to the ear, there was just the artist and her music.
Muldaur gives us a minimalist presentation of songs from Sippie Wallace, Bessie Smith, Victoria Spivey, Alberta Hunter, Ma Rainey, Mamie Smith, Ethel Waters and Sara Martin. Backed by James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, Muldaur is simply spectacular in painting a vivid picture that allows us to walk around in these songs and breathe in the flavors and smells of yesteryear.
Her long-time friend Bonnie Raitt joins Muldaur for her rendition of Sippie Wallace’s "Separation Blues." The duet’s earthy vocals are supported by the Dapogny Band’s spectacular horn section. Dapogny’s band may be from Chicago, but there is a distinct New Orleans ambience created by the spectacular horn section. The James Dapogny Chicago Jazz Band simply shines on "New Orleans Hip Scop Blues." The prominence of Kevin Porter’s trombone and the deep throb of the tuba add to the ambience.
When I talked to Muldaur recently, she spoke passionately about honoring the women whose music and personalities were often obscured by a male dominated blues and jazz industry back in the day. Muldaur’s previous two tributes to these blues icons, Richland Woman Blues (2001) and Sweet Lovin’ Ol’ Soul (2005), both garnered Grammy award nominations.
On the fifth track, Alberta Hunter’s "My Handy Man," Muldaur proves not only does she still have the voice, but also she also absolutely oozes sensuality. One would not think that Muldaur cooing an innocuous lyric like, "Don’t care if you believe it or not/He’s so good to have around/When my furnace gets too hot/He turns my damper down," would be seductive. If you thought that, then you were wrong because this is Maria Muldaur, the same woman who more than 30 years ago stirred by heart with her smash hit "Midnight At The Oasis." One of the wonderful aspects concerning Muldaur’s performance and the lyrics to the songs she performs is it proves sensuality can be handled tastefully and not in the vulgar fashion so often presented by today’s urban artists.
In 1928, Hunter made her appearance playing Queenie in the first London production of Showboat at Drury Lane. Her career flourished in the 20s and 30s, appearing on stage in New York City and London. After an absence of more than eleven years from the music industry, Hunter came out of retirement to record what today would be referred to as an EP. Once again in 1978 when she was 81 years of age, she was coaxed out of retirement and performed regularly, including an appearance at the White House. The octogenarian singer signed a new record deal. She continued to perform until her passing in 1984. Muldaur also sings Hunter’s "Early Every Morn" on the eleventh track.
Maria Muldaur continues to enrich our lives with bringing to the fore songs such as Okeh Record’s recording artist Mamie Smith’s "Down Home Blues," Bessie Smith’s "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" and "Empty Bed Blues." "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" has a wonderful piano solo by Dave Matthews. We also get to breathe in the ballad "TB Blues," first sung in the 1920s by another Okeh Records artist, Houston native Victoria Spivey. Muldaur performs a second Spivey song "One-Hour Mama." Early in her career, Muldaur was under the blues tutelage of Victoria Spivey. Muldaur saves her best vocal performance for Sippie Wallace’s ballad "Up The Country Blues."
If you want to hear great songs with real life lyrics performed by a tremendously gifted singer, then pickup Maria Muldaur’s album Naughty Bawdy & Blue when it hits the streets May 15th. The CD also includes extensive recollections from Maria Muldaur concerning these women singers and their impact on music. There are bios of each of the women who paved the way for today’s African American singers.