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Music Review: Maria Muldaur – Maria Muldaur & Her Garden Of Joy

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Maria Muldaur ought to be institutionalized. No, not in the sense of being locked away for her own safety and ours…

I mean she ought to be named an institution herself, for her tireless efforts to honor and celebrate American roots music.

Muldaur’s latest, the aptly named Garden Of Joy, is subtitled Good Time Music For Hard Times. It represents both a response to the current economic and political climate, and a return to her own jug-band roots. Which explains why over half the playlist here is credited as ‘traditional, arranged and adapted by Maria Muldaur.’

As the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. And with times as tough as they are, Muldaur has selected tunes that deal with the hardships of day-to-day life with lively and surprisingly timely good humor. And where appropriate, she’s added touches of her own that keep both music and subject material fresh and relevant.

She’s even managed to track down former members of the Even Dozen Jug Band, from her early Greenwich Village days, to help out. On hand are John Sebastian (Lovin’ Spoonful) and bluegrass stalwart David Grisman, as well as eternal hipster Dan Hicks, who contributes two period-perfect compositions of his own.

This is music designed for entertainment, a response to hard times intended to help listeners forget. So while titles include the ominous sounding “Bank Failure Blues” and “The Panic Is On,” the content remains largely light-hearted – the playlist also features a medley of tunes titled “Life’s Too Short / When Elephants Roost In Bamboo Trees,” and ditties like the rollicking “Shout You Cats” and “Garden Of Joy.” Included, too, is the title track from Sweet Lovin’ Old Soul,” Muldaur’s 2005 tribute to early blues women that featured the final recordings of late jug player Fritz Richmond.

It’s material for the powerless, people who had no control over the vast forces dominating their lives. With much of society in much the same predicament today, Muldaur’s latest is a timely reminder that music can offer a ray of sunshine in the toughest of times. If days are dark and time is all you have to spend, Maria Muldaur’s Garden Of Joy is a delightful place to spend it.

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