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30 Years of Maria Muldaur: I’m A Woman

I’ve been waiting for a good Maria Muldaur CD retrospective for a long time now, and the folks at Shout! Factory (“Music, movies & video for the discerning pop culture geek.”) have delivered the goods at last: 30 Years of Maria Muldaur: I’m A Woman. Charting the former jug band fiddler from her first solo releases on Warner Brothers to her more recent work for smaller specialty labels like Black Top and Telarc, Woman convincingly displays Muldaur’s evolution from Tin Pan Alley folkie vamp to maturely earthy roots mama. This progression may surprise those primarily familiar with her one 70’s era fluke hit, “Midnight at the Oasis,” and her tasteful covers of Kate McGarrigle and Hoagy Carmicahel – but it makes sense to those of us who still savor her earlier Memphis Minnie tributes as a member of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and in her work with ex-husband Geoff Muldaur.
The set opens with tracks from her two best-selling albums, the self-titled debut and Waitress in A Donut Shop, including “Midnight” and her white r-&-b cover of the Peggy Lee hit “I’m A Woman,” followed by two overly sentimental versions of Dolly Parton’s “My Tennessee Mountain Home” and McGarrigle’s ultra-dubious Steven Foster tribute, “The Work Song.” But the set reaches its stride by cut six, the first of three r-&-b come-ons – “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion,” “Don’t You Make Me High (Don’t You Feel My Leg)” and a Doctor John original, “Three Dollar Bill” – that anticipate her gutsier work for blues labels like Black Top in the nineties.
Ever since her work with the Jug Band crowd – where her quavery vocals at times unfortunately recalled folk era non-singers like Buffy St. Marie – Maria Muldaur’s note-warpin’ voice has been a love-it-or-leave-it kinda deal. Me, I find it appealing, though at times her affectations can get overly cutesy. (She’s also done children’s records that aren’t covered in this set, which can really try an adult listener’s patience.) As she’s aged, though, Muldaur’s throaty voice has attained an authority that’s beautifully deepened her work. Her career comeback, 1992’s Louisiana Love Call, was the first indicator of just how much she’d grown as a singer, but 2001’s Richland Woman Blues is her masterwork: a self-produced acoustic evocation of early blues songs that goes beyond folkish tribute into work that stands on its own. I’m A Woman collects three songs from this release, including a remake of “Me And My Chauffeur Blues” with Roy Rogers, plus two of the disc’s gospel numbers, and they’re all wonderful, the work of a girl who once claimed to be a W-O-M-A-N now grown-up and actually sounding like one. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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