In the summer of 1974 Maria Muldaur’s ballad, ‘Midnight at the Oasis,’ gripped the charts. Her flair for sultry falsetto and ability to choose material that embraced her lively personality had commercially paid off. But, her musical career had begun much, much earlier. Muldaur was able to interpret mature material as early as five years old.

In those early years, she was saturated with all kinds of musical styles; Bluegrass, swing, jazz, blues, gospel and country, but it was the latter that captivated her most. Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and Kitty Wells became her muses, and after numerous repeats on her spindle, Muldaur was able to replicate a variety of styles with great warmth and precision.

She formed the Cashmeres in high school, later becoming engrossed with the Greenwich Village vibrancy that, in the 1950s and 1960s, intrigued young people who would settle in at Washington Square Park and pull out jugs, harmonicas, guitars and mandolins. It was there that she joined the Friends of Old Timey Music. These revivalists would scour the rural South for talent and then locate concert halls for the likes of Doc Watson, Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt. Additionally, Muldaur studied fiddle in North Carolina with Watson’s camp, devouring Appalachian culture and trading licks and experiences with her predecessors.

After a tip from Victoria Spivey, the rare woman at that time who owned a record label (Spivey Records), her future colleagues, David Grisman and John Sebastian, urged the young singer to join their Even Dozen Jug Band. In preparation for a recording, the group poured through countless, possible selections including classics by Memphis Minnie, Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith; talented and spirited women, not afraid to fully express their emotions.

Further down the road, she joined the Jim Kweskin Jug Band recording ‘I’m A Woman’. Geoff Muldaur, its co-founder and a multi-instrumentalist, became her husband, but after two recorded albums, he joined Paul Butterfield for the Better Days project, leaving his marriage and musical partnership adrift.

After running into Mo Ostin, an executive at Reprise Records, the disheartened performer was, however, revitalized. She was asked to record her self-titled debut, slated to become platinum within two years. Four Warner Brothers albums followed, allowing her to record with other vocalists and renowned songwriters such as Dr. John, Stevie Wonder, J.J. Cale and Hoagy Carmichael. A slew of albums highlighted her career, including works that dipped head-first into New Orleans culture and musical style, but wisely adding her own distinct twist, even labeling it, “bluesiana.”.

Muldaur recorded several tribute albums to honour artists such as Peggy Lee and pianist/vocalist Charles Brown ('Meet Me Where They Play the Blues', 1999). Late 2000 found her producing, ‘Yes We Can’ a vehicle for socially aware songwriters and then in 2009 she realised 'Garden of Joy', which allowed her to revisit her Jug Band passions.

But, for this live performance, Muldaur concentrates primarily on the canon of friend and colleague, Bob Dylan. In her first song, ‘Buckets of Rain,’ the striking brunette, dressed in a floral print blouse and flowing black skirt, nuzzles the mike and, using her hands to convey emotion, allows the audience a personal glimpse into her world. “I like your smile and fingertips/I like the way that you kiss my lips,” she sings saucily. But, then, after purring, “Everything about you is bringing me misery” she shares with the intimate crowd, “I love this line.”

She then performs an up-tempo version of another one of the troubadour’s classics, which she has renamed, 'Lay Baby Lay'. During the first few numbers, Muldaur seems to be racing ahead a bit and I find myself waiting for some reflective moments; time to settle into her generally warm mindset, and, shortly thereafter, she does. “You can take the boys out of the swamp/But you can’t take the swamp out of the boys,” she remarks casually before launching into the infectious, ‘To Be Alone with You’. The dynamic between Muldaur and her talented band is impressive. The solos are spread out evenly; there are two excellent guitarists, Craig Caffall and Danny Caron, both artful and ready to stop on a dime.

An acoustic guitar solo embellishes the simple, but elegant, ‘Heart of Mine.’ which becomes more riveting when tail-gating occurs between this singer and her instrumentalists. Maria announces her next number, from the “dark, moody album” ‘Time Out of Mind,’ called ‘To Make You Feel My Love.’

“Such heartfelt emotion,” she says, before singing. “I’d go hungry/I’d go blind for you.” She sings in a voice much deeper now, than in her youth, but still plenty capable of courting intimacy. “Isn’t that gorgeous, My God,” she exclaims, obviously still taken with the moving lyrics.

‘Meet Me in the Moonlite’ swings and has more of a Gershwin/Porter patter than most of Dylan’s work. Muldaur seems pleased with herself that she had pulled this one out of her vault. Chris Burns offers up an exuberant keyboard solo. Then, as she ruminates about “Queen Anne’s lace and crickets talking back and forth in rhyme, “ she appears as comfortable on stage as ever. And, as if she knows how she’s being received, she jokes, “I hope the show is not too slick for you so far…”

In one of a few deviations from Dylan material, Muldaur sings J.J. Cale’s, ‘Cajun Moon.’ Her famed falsetto comes alive set against a dynamic guitar solo which she playfully embraces. Her upper range, hidden previously in the evening, is explored. The gutsy ‘Golden Loom’ features a dynamic steel guitar solo by J. Jaffe who doubles on percussion.

‘On a Night like This’ sounds like a beguine with its Latin edges. “Close your eyes/Close the door/You don’t have to worry anymore/I’ll be your baby tonight,” she sings convincingly. Muldaur seems to be pulling assorted tricks from her sleeve; her signature jazz phrasings and uber-yodel, in full force.

The audience gets excited when she announces ‘Midnight at the Oasis’. Like back in the day, she reaches for a tambourine, but this new interpretation is almost a spin on smooth jazz and has the dreamy texture of a scrim. ‘Wedding Song’ brings an emotional Maria downstage to play fiddle with the primary fiddler, Suzy Thompson.

“Wish me luck – this one’s a very hard one for me,” she announces, both because she has pulled the fiddle out of the proverbial cloak room, for this moment, and also because the song seems to strike something very personal within her. “Someday if somebody would love me like that…” she comments quietly. “I said goodbye to haunted rooms and faces on the street,” she sings, gently.

The last number, ‘Ride Me High’ finds Muldaur enthusiastically battling the bow once more, with a cheery Thompson anticipating every move. Kimberly Bass performs backing vocals and the band is in full tilt.

“We love you, God loves you and pray for peace,” Muldaur says, humbly and seemingly grateful to be performing, even after all these years.







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