Sunday, November 15, 2009

Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy reviewed by Steve Jones

Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy
Maria Muldaur
Stony Plain Records
12 tracks/

Hard times give rise to good times music. People have always used music as a means to counter the problems of their lives. Maria Muldaur returns to her roots in jug band music to bring us a mix of depression era classics along with some new music to uplift us and help us get through the current times.

Muldaur is reunited with John Sebastian and David Grisman from her Even Dozen Jug Band days, the first group she ever recorded with. She is quite at home singing this set of traditional arrangements long with a couple of great new numbers written by Dan Hicks (who also joins her for two duets on the CD). Also included is the great song “Sweet Lovin’ Ol’ Soul”, the title track from her 2005 Grammy-nominated album, featuring the now late man Fritz Richmond and her pal Taj Mahal. Guitar player Kit Stovepipe and the Crow Quill Night Owls are also on the CD. They are a new, young jug band that Muldaur discovered and these folks have a load of talent! The guitar, mandolin and fiddle work , along with all the other accompaniment, are never overdone yet are outstanding.

The music presented here hearkens to the 20’s and 30’s with topics that are equally appropriate for today: “Bank Failure Blues” and “The Panic is On” are two current economic topics we can all take to heart as our nest eggs look a bit poached. While the topics can be grim, Maria’s vocals and the ebullient accompaniments make the pain go away.

The medley duet, “Life’s Too Short/When Elephants Roost in Bamboo Trees” with hipster Dan Hicks are quite funny and the vocal interaction is well done. These two, along with the two new songs he give us here, “The Diplomat” and “Let It Simmer”, are certainly the highlights of the album, but don’t sell the other tracks short. This is a great CD!

I must also comment on the CD packaging. The art work and layout are throwbacks to Maria’s roots in the 60’s. Kudos to Neil Osborne for creating the art for one of the coolest CD covers in a while!

Muldaur’s love of the jug band sound is evident. We get to hear a very nice, updated take on an old genre and it sounds fresh. Muldaur’s pace and phrasing are precise and her vocals are always sweet and sultry, whether singing in the style of the flapper era or deep in the blues. She has turned in a great effort once again. She and her superb team of artists have truly produced a wonderful album of “Good Time Music for Hard Times!”

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