Maria Muldaur,
Heart of Mine
(Telarc, 2006)

Maria Muldaur could sing the proverbial Manhattan phone book and have most men thinking about reproduction long before she got to the Abbotts. Imagine the effect when she does Bob Dylan love songs.

The second thing that strikes you while listening to Heart of Mine is how fond she is of the material. She was raised in Greenwich Village and performed there in the 1960s, sometimes alongside Dylan. He recently told her, after she said how much she admired his "Moonlight" and that she wanted to record it, "You should -- that's a great idea -- I can really hear you singing it."

And now she has recorded it, along with 11 other Dylan songs. Liner notes confirm she's long admired the famous protest singer's softer side; the album confirms there is much to admire, and more than one approach to proving it. Muldaur replaces Dylan's raspy-masculine, knowingly aggressive style with sultry-gentle, knowingly inviting, and her warmth brings out the romantic beauty of his lyrics.

It's a solid selection of tunes, nicely mixed. Upbeat love songs complement slow ballads to avoid a one-mood overdose. Backup musicians add to the variety as fiddle, accordion, banjo and various rhythm instruments sometimes bolster the usual guitars and snare. The sidemen are uniformly fine, though sometimes too comfortable in the fills and solos. More adventurous playing could have made a winning album even better.

Whether or not you like the recording though will depend on how you feel about Muldaur's strong, sensual voice and her approach to Dylan. It's always difficult to be convincing when you're covering songs as well known as many of these, especially when their author is so unique and immediately recognizable. "Lay Lady Lay," for example, becomes "Lay Baby Lay" to accommodate the decidedly female singer. Takes some getting use to, but it works for me.

Other album highlights include Dylan's fairly recent "Make You Feel My Love." Muldaur calls it "the ultimate love ballad of all time," and brings a Janis Joplin-like intensity to it that serves it well. "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" is her joyous conclusion to the outing. She joins in on fiddle and reminds us that, in addition to folk and pop, she's more than familiar with bluegrass and country.

If you're new to Muldaur or only know her still delightful "Midnight at the Oasis," give this one a try. While showing us just how good Dylan's songwriting really is, she's at her likable and enticing best, and it's one of those albums that grows on you the more you listen. Strongly recommended.

by Ron Bierman
24 February 2007

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