Maria Muldaur – Naughty Bawdy And Blue (2007)

FrontCover1Best-known for her seductive ’70s pop staple “Midnight at the Oasis,” Maria Muldaur (* September 12, 1943) has enjoyed a long career as an acclaimed interpreter of just about every stripe of American roots music: blues, early jazz, gospel, folk, country, and R&B. Originally known as Maria D’Amato, she first found a nationwide audience as a member of Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band (beginning with 1963’s Jug Band Music), and playing vintage folk and blues in an upbeat and entertaining style. After the Kweskin band split up, Geoff & Maria (who had married) recorded a pair of critically celebrated albums — 1968’s Pottery Pie and 1972’s Sweet Potatoes — that juggled folk, blues, jazz, and gospel influences. After the couple divorced, Muldaur went out on her own, and her self-titled debut album in 1973 was a savvy blend of country, blues, and pop that earned her a major hit single with “Midnight at the Oasis.”

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Muldaur dug deeper into the blues on 1974’s Waitress in a Donut Shop, which included another successful single, “I’m a Woman,” but her next several albums found her struggling to balance her own instincts with the expectations of her label. Muldaur returned to independent labels with 1980’s Gospel Nights, a live album cut after she embraced Christianity. Muldaur returned to secular music with 1983’s Sweet and Slow, a set informed by vintage jazz and blues, and over the next three decades, she would lend her talents to swing numbers (1998’s Swingin’ in the Rain), tough R&B (1994’s Meet Me at Midnite), New Orleans grooves (1992’s Louisiana Love Call), polished double-entendre blues (1999’s Meet Me Where They Play the Blues), political activist songs (2008’s Yes We Can!), and even children’s music (2010’s Barnyard Dance: Jug Band Music for Kids). Muldaur has combined her eclecticism with the romantic sensuality that’s underpinned much of her best work ever since the beginning of her career. (by Steve Huey)

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Maria Muldaur’s trilogy of old-timey blues and jazz releases for the Stony Plain imprint (she simultaneously records more contemporary music for the Telarc label) concludes with this appropriately titled set. Much is made in the liner notes of the veteran jazz/blues/pop/gospel singer being mentored in her early jugband years by no less of an icon than Victoria Spivey, so it seems Muldaur feels this tribute to the style and material of Spivey and other “classic blues queens” of the ’20s and ’30s is a sort of closure. It is also a history lesson, with detailed booklet information, some of it written by Muldaur, providing fascinating capsule biographies of the women whose music is covered here.

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Muldaur sure has the pipes and integrity for this approach, alternatively playful, sexy and downtrodden, and these dozen tracks find her inspired both by the strong, occasionally humorous material and the superb backing musicians in James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band. There is no attempt to modernize these classic vaudeville and Dixieland era tunes; rather the intent is to be true to the original style with acoustic backing played in, and with, the spirit that made them so popular in their day. Muldaur invigorates the incessant double entendres that surely caused lecherous grins when listeners heard Bessie Smith’s “Empty Bed Blues” or Spivey’s “One Hour Mama” for the first time.

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Bonnie Raitt swings by for a cameo on Sippie Wallace’s “Separation Blues,” graciously not stealing the spotlight, but using her presence to pay tribute to one of her own inspirations. Other blues women covered here are Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey and Alberta Hunter. Muldaur’s versions aren’t simply covers, they reinvigorate the material, keeping the focus on the lyrics while Dapogny’s group swings along. It’s a fun, frisky and enlightening ride from a vocalist who has always promoted this music mixed in with her other styles, and an album that leaves the listener anticipating a follow-up. (by Hal Horowitz)

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Personnel:
Kim Cusack (saxophone, clarinet)
Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet)
Kurt Krahnke (bass)
Rod McDonald (guitar, banjo)
Maria Muldaur (vocals)
Pete Siers (drums)
Chris Smith (trombone, tuba)
Russ Whitman (saxophone, clarinet)
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James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band
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Rob Bourassa (guitar on 05. + 11.)
Dave Mathews (piano on 10.)
Kevin Porter (trombone on 10.)
Bonnie Raitt (vocals on 03.)

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Tracklist:
01. Down Home Blues (Smith/Bradford) 3.24
02. Up The Country Blues (Wallace) 3.18
03. Separation Blues (Wallace) 4.45
04. A Good Man Is Hard To Find (Green) 3.57
05. Handy Man (Razaf/Blake) 4.00
06. New Orleans Hop Scop Blues (Thomas) 3.34
07. Smile (Chapman/Parsons/Turner) 3.38
08. TB Blues (Spivey) 3.11
09. One Hour Mama (Spivey) 3.08
10. Empty Bed Blues (Johnson) 6.23
11. Early Every Morn (Hunter) 3.35
12. Yonder Come The Blues (Rainey) 2.45

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