Maria Muldaur,
Steady Love
(Stony Plain, 2011)

Maria Muldaur has been releasing records since the 1960s, when she was Maria D'Amato and singing with the Even Dozen Jug Band and then, more famously, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Her eponymous solo debut in 1973 and its 1974 follow-up Waitress in a Doughnut Shop launched her into unlikely pop stardom for a time. On her Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy (which I reviewed here on 14 November 2009) she returned to her jug-band roots. Wherever Muldaur has gone in her prolific recording career, drawing on a range of genres that encompass pop (vintage and contemporary), rock, jazz, folk and gospel, the one constant has been the blues.

On Steady Love the blues is accented by hard-driving, modern electrical arrangements and New Orleans rhythms. The CD was cut in that city's Fudge Recording Studio. Love borrows the services of a host of local r&b, jazz and rock musicians, prominently including guitarist Shane Theriot, bassist Johnny Allen and keyboardist/musical director Dave Torkanowsky. Perhaps this signals that Muldaur is finished with the revivals of 1920s jazz- and folk-blues that defined her CDs of the last decade (all well worth seeking out, by the way), or perhaps not. Muldaur is rarely predictable, which is one reason she stays interesting.

Love turns out to be a solid and satisfying exercise, starting with the strong songs she's selected, not the least the title piece from the pen of Greg Brown (composer also of the appealing "Blues Go Walking," the album's one pure blues). She provides a near-epic, 6 1/2-minute reading of the great Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love," leading me to wonder yet again why Percy Mayfield never got to be a household name. The sacred side of traditional music is movingly represented on the spiritual "I Done Made Up in My Mind" -- Muldaur happens to be a devout Christian, liberal side of the aisle -- and the Rev. W.H. Brewster's "As an Eagle Stirreth in Her Nest," which Muldaur cut before many years ago on an obscure Takoma LP. Proceedings close with Rick Vito's "I am Not Alone," which Muldaur delivers with the grace and beauty of a mature artist in full possession of her power to move listeners' tears out of their ducts.

At this stage of her career, it's hard to imagine that Muldaur could manage a mediocre album. On the other hand, her early ones were pretty decent, too. Steady Love is Muldaur doing what she does: creating music that moves and pleases and will keep doing the same for as long as it's there for somebody to hear it.

music review by
Jerome Clark

12 November 2011

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