[9 September 2004]
When people mention New Orleans, they often talk about Mardi Gras but fail to mention just what kind of remarkable melting pot the place is for music. If you look at genre-bending styles that come from the city, you would probably recognize people like Dr. John starting off. But after those in the “know”, a singer like Maria Muldaur might not come to mind. Thankfully people will have this collection of three decades to keep them satisfied. Whether it’s the swampy mix of blues, country and feel-good pop that keeps things rolling on the album’s title track, Muldaur keeps things flowing and toes a tappin’. Not quite Bonnie Raitt but lying somewhere between her and Mac Davis in his heyday, Muldaur has horns, harmonicas, and a healthy dose of instruments in-between during this song originally done by Peggy Lee in 1962.
The light ‘70s jazz pop on her signature tune “Midnight At The Oasis” pales greatly compared to the opener, but was a hit back in the day. The cheesy strings added to the tune only make it more fluff than substance. Guitarist David Nichtern paints a nice solo during the bridge but it’s not enough to make the song not seem dated in a style that was once popular. Faring better is the early Dolly Parton cover of “My Tennessee Mountain Home” with its fiddles and down-home Appalachian sound. Muldaur is just as comfortable being all over the musical map though, particularly with the vaudeville-ish “The Work Song” that is a cross between Tom Waits and Billy Joel circa “Piano Man”, if that’s even conceivable. The slower big band-meets-Billie Holiday flavor on “Rockin’ Chair” is another strong ditty. It demonstrates Muldaur’s keen ear for performing something that is well within her vast framework.
Sometimes she stretches herself too thin, especially trying too hard and with a rough rasp on “It Ain’t the Meat (It’s the Motion)” that also featured Benny Carter and his All-Star Big Band. The tune just doesn’t hit the ground running and is taken down further with a give-and-take vocal between her and male backing vocalists. But she gets back to her strength on the slower and sultry jazz of “Don’t You Make Me High (Don’t You Feel My Leg)” which instantly resembles Fats Domino’s “I Want to Walk You Home”. Muldaur keeps it going on the groove-riddled “Three Dollar Bill”, originally penned by Dr. John. Although it might go a tad slower than some people may desire, it packs a nice piano-driven punch to it. Muldaur was also able to strike up friendships with a great deal of her peers, resulting in some partnerships that benefited her career. This is shown on the mellow, down-tempo “Cajun Moon” written by J.J. Cale and also with the softer classic country crooning on “Louisiana Love Call” featuring Aaron Neville on harmony.
Perhaps the oddest tune that comes off best is another slow, jazz-oriented cover of John Hiatt’s “It Feels Like Rain”, devoid of any sort of roots or folk feeling that was so important to the original. The piano tickling and bass line also allow for more of Muldaur’s raspy pipes to come through, kind of like a cross between a hoarse Norah Jones and a smooth Macy Gray. This crawling dirge-like pace picks up with a subtle gospel refrain in the distance as it passes the six-minute mark. But she gets her sonic ball rolling again on the delightful little blues folk of “Me & My Chauffeur Blues” with some pleasing guitar work accenting her every line.
Unfortunately, the album sometimes gets bogged down in the jazz or lounge feeling, particularly with the ordinary and uninspired tone on “Get Up, Get Ready”. Yet Muldaur can still get a good boogie going on the uplifting spiritual “Somebody Was Watching Over Me”. Here she gets a hand from Mavis Staples, Tracy Nelson, and Bonnie Raitt, among others, to drive the song home. It’s an album that is steeped in soul and blues, but has a bit of everything else to pick up the occasional slack.