Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Maria Muldaur

  • Maria Muldaur [Reprise, 1973] B+
  • Waitress in a Donut Shop [Reprise, 1974] C+
  • Gospel Nights [Takoma, 1981] B
  • On the Sunny Side [Music for Little People, 1990] *
  • Meet Me Where They Play the Blues [Telarc, 1999] *
  • Music for Lovers [Telarc, 2000] **
  • Richland Woman Blues [Stony Plain, 2001] A-
  • A Woman Alone With the Blues [Telarc, 2003] **
  • Classic Live! [Dig Music, 2003] **
  • 30 Years of Maria Muldaur: I'm a Woman [Shout! Factory, 2004] **
  • Heart of Mine: Love Songs of Bob Dylan [Telarc, 2006] A
  • Naughty, Bawdy & Blue [Stony Plain, 2007] *
  • Don't You Feel My Leg: The Naughty Bawdy Blues of Blue Lu Barker [Last, 2018] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Maria Muldaur [Reprise, 1973]
Cut by cut, this bid to contemporize Maria's nouveau-jug music (two songs each from Wendy Waldman and David Nichtern, one each from Dr. John and Kate McGarrigle) is intelligent and attractive. But the overall effect is just slightly aimless and sterile. Maybe it's Muldaur's quavery voice, which only rarely has driven me to attention, or the low-risk flawlessness of the Lenny Waronker/Joe Boyd production. Or maybe it's just the curse of the jugheads--not knowing how to make good on your flirtations with nostalgia. B+

Waitress in a Donut Shop [Reprise, 1974]
In which a new '50s nostalgia, beatnikism, is manipulated to exploit reasonable doubts and fears about sex-role redefinition. No woman hip (or even tasteful) enough to love Skip James has the right to pretend there's such a thing as an earth mother. And if the production last time was too safe, this is what it was guarding against--ecch-lectic cliches. C+

Gospel Nights [Takoma, 1981]
In the end I'm not won over by the Rock and Roll for Christ, but I do want to note that Muldaur has never sang with more confidence. Maybe she was of two minds about that sexy w-o-m-a-n stuff. B

On the Sunny Side [Music for Little People, 1990]
could be (even) cuter ("Would You Like to Swing on a Star," "The Circus Song," "Never Swat a Fly") *

Meet Me Where They Play the Blues [Telarc, 1999]
Last of the red hot mamas ("Soothe Me," "It Ain't the Meat, It's the Motion"). *

Music for Lovers [Telarc, 2000]
the old torch songs are the best ("Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," "I Wanna Be Loved") **

Richland Woman Blues [Stony Plain, 2001]
Too old to waste time bragging, too wise to want any more macho mess, Muldaur finds title, lead, and persona for this Memphis Minnie tribute in a well-loved classic by gentle John Hurt. It beats her '60s cover if not the original, as does the pliant, weathered "Me and My Chauffeur." Sticking to underexposed blues songs and aided by a lifetime's worth of friends--Amos Garrett taking Lead Belly to the Delta, Angela Strehli working a "cooperation plan," Alvin Youngblood Hart as Minnie's good old Kansas Joe--she turns in the best record of her undiminished lifetime. When was the last time anyone in Marin County wrote a line to match "Gon' bring you some money if I have to pawn my pants"? A-

A Woman Alone With the Blues [Telarc, 2003]
Peggy Lee's bote sex becomes Maria's juke sex--drawled, growled, vamped, and moaned ("Fever," "I Don't Know Enough About You") **

Classic Live! [Dig Music, 2003]
McGarrigle, Parton, Holiday, Dan Hicks--add some Gershwin-Porter-Arlen and she'd have herself the ideal modern cabaret repertoire ("Work Song," "Searchin'"). **

30 Years of Maria Muldaur: I'm a Woman [Shout! Factory, 2004]
Solo, she improved with age ("Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," "Rockin' Chair"). **

Heart of Mine: Love Songs of Bob Dylan [Telarc, 2006]
A pop connoisseur even as a kid in a jug band, Muldaur always brings savoir-faire to "folk" materials. But she's never sung with so much attention, delicacy and lyrical intelligence. She extracts meaning from songs a younger Dylan played as look-ma-June-spoon throwaways, lifts the title tune from well-earned obscurity, lays "Lay Lady Lay" across her big brass soul and rescues "Make You Feel My Love" from Billy Joel. And also from Bob Dylan. Even when the songwriter does this kind of material straight, he's not sexy--not like Rod Stewart or Al Green. But Muldaur, who's been known to slather the libido on too thick, is serious about getting into bed with him. A

Naughty, Bawdy & Blue [Stony Plain, 2007]
Blue blues and educational double entendres, New Orleans-style ("One Hour Mama," "Down Home Blues"). *

Don't You Feel My Leg: The Naughty Bawdy Blues of Blue Lu Barker [Last, 2018]
Now 75, Muldaur became a dynamo in her fifties, an album a year between 1998 and 2011. Always a nuanced singer, she got subtler, sassier, and smarter; her pipes remained supple and the burr in her voice never went to seed. But her best albums were sharpened by a concept, particularly the wide-ranging Memphis Minnie tribute Richland Woman Blues and the mind-blowing .Heart of Mine: The Love Songs of Bob Dylan and its climactic "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," which gets busier in that easy chair than was dreamt of in the Byrds' philosophy. This album flips the script by breaking out an obscure songbook rather than reimagining a famous one. Muldaur has been performing Blue Lu and Danny Barker's lubricious title song since it spiced up her solo debut in 1973, and in 2007 she assembled a whole album called Naughty, Bawdy & Blue. Here she lightens her timbre in tribute to her friend Lu on top of a hyperactive New Orleans band, and she's never sounded sexier or more committed. "Georgia Grind" jumps out at "Mama mama look at sis," after which "Loan Me Your Husband" follows hard upon "Leave My Man Alone." But it signifies that naughty and bawdy ain't all. "Now You're Down in the Alley" and "Here's a Little Girl from Jacksonville" could double as 50s dance novelties, "Nix on Those Lush Heads" means what it says, and if "Trombone Man Blues" evokes Dinah Washington at her filthiest, "A Little Bird" ends happily ever after. After all, Blue Lu and Danny were wed for 67 years. A

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