When Jenni Muldaur was born, her mother hadn’t yet achieved legendary status. Maria Muldaur, of course, has since become virtually a one-woman musical preservation society, celebrating blues and roots music that might otherwise fade into obscurity with unerring aplomb. (Maria’s latest is a return to her and former husband Geoff Muldaur’s jug-band roots). And although dad’s maintained a somewhat lower profile, he, too, is a respected figure in the world of roots music.
Given the tastes of her parents, one assumes Jenni was exposed to a lot of wonderful music as she was growing up; the playlist on Dearest Darlin’ is a superb collection of lesser-known gems.
Material ranges from the raucous R&B of “I’ve Got a Feelin’” (a minor hit for Big Mama Thornton) to the accapella “Hopali,” a chant arranged by folklorist Alan Lomax. Other tunes come from the likes of Bo Diddley (the title track, a swampy romp with a classic diddley beat ) and James Brown (Muldaur’s soulful pleading on “Lost Someone” is positively spine-tingling).
Regardless of origin, though, every song here is infused with soul and given passionate, rousing delivery – with the lone exception of Muldaur’s only composition, the dreamy “Comatose Town.” With its somewhat spacey arrangement, it’s a little out of context but works well enough as a quiet closer for the collection.
Muldaur gets stellar support from a core quartet featuring the late Sean Costello on guitar, with an extensive guest list that includes an excellent horn section as needed. It’s her show, though, and she’s a vocal wonder throughout, her gritty delivery tempered by phrasing that makes the most of every line with natural ease.
A wonderful outing, Dearest Darlin’ shows Jenni’s lineage to excellent advantage– there are times here when she sounds a bit like mom back in the day – but also reveals a confident artist with an unerring ear for great material that suits her style. Recommended!