[15 January 2007]
It has always struck me as a bit of an oxymoron that Bob Dylan, a man whose speech you could seldom understand, is considered a legendary songwriter and performer. Here, another tribute comes Dylan’s way, in the form of Maria Muldaur’s Heart of Mine, subtitled Love Songs of Bob Dylan.
Muldaur’s association with Dylan’s music originates in the turbulent ‘60s, when speaking out on social issues was not only prominent in the daily headlines, but became a mainstay in popular music. Both artists were playing the same Greenwich Village scene coffeehouses. “It occurred to me,” Muldaur says, “that while Dylan is mostly known for his scathing, perceptive, brutally honest and insightful songs of social consciousness, he has in fact, over the years, written many deeply passionate, poignant and moving love songs.”
Muldaur has recorded an outstanding version of “Lay Baby Lay (Lay Lady Lay)”, the song that people of my generation first associate with Dylan. On it, Muldaur regains the sensuality that made her own song “Midnight at the Oasis” a top six tune in 1973. Her eponymous debut was ranked on the Billboard album chart for more than six months largely on the strength of the single, and the record went on to earn platinum status.
As good as Muldaur’s performance is on “Lay Baby Lay”, she is even better on the bluesy “To Be Alone with You”. Many a man will feel weak in the knees as he listens to Muldaur sultrily coo, “To be alone with you / Just you and me / Now won’t you tell me true / Ain’t that the way it oughta’ be? / To hold each other tight?”
Fans of blues music are in for a real treat, however, when they hear the tandem of Cranston Clements (acoustic guitar) and Grammy Award-winner Danny Caron (electric rhythm guitar) lay down some sweet licks. Caron in particular is spectacular in his solo. The guitarist is a veteran of the Texas music scene and has performed with artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Marcia Ball, John Lee Hooker, and Van Morrison. Muldaur sings the blues the way it should be sung: with passion, heartbreak, and personal experience. “Golden Loom” matches her great vocals in a call-and-response with David Torkanowsky’s keyboard magic.
The lady demonstrates she can be seductive in several genres with her invitation, “Won’t you meet me in the moonlight alone?” “Moonlight” has that easygoing southern charm to which it is difficult to say no. What makes this song work so well is the instrumental accompaniment. David Torkanowsky’s keyboard chops, Hutch Hutchison’s strong bassline, and Tony Braunagel’s drumming supported by the good picking by Caron and Clements are a testament to the terrific arrangement. We should also tip our hat to Muldaur, who wore the producer’s hat for Heart of Mine.
Readers are forewarned that not all the tracks on this album are blues and jazz. Muldaur chose to record several covers of Dylan’s tunes with a country twang. Tracks nine, 10, and 11 are country, and the last track is bluegrass.
In late November, Heart of Mine hit number one on Billboard‘s Blues Albums Chart. In mid-December, the CD still occupied the number two spot, and had been charting for 15 weeks.