Maria Muldaur's latest album for Stony Plain Records, Naughty, Bawdy & Blue, is a unique concept that goes well-beyond a regular "tribute" CD. It's the combination of her talent, knowledge of the music and utilization of musicians who've played with some of the artists saluted on this CD that enables her to re-create the sound, passion and presentation of these songs. In fact, it's fair to say that Maria is probably the only present-day singer who could pull off an album like this with the kind of authenticity that surpasses any others. That's because for over 40 years as a performer, she's literally lived the life of someone steeped in the American roots music songbook, whether it's blues, jazz, gospel, folk, country or rhythm & blues. She's the real deal, a true natural resource without any artificial affectations or jive.
For Maria Muldaur, the inspiration to sing and perform literally arrived in her own backyard. Born and raised in the Greenwich Village section of New York City, Maria was at the epicenter of the burgeoning folk and roots music boom that happened in the early '60s, with Greenwich Village as its hub. The pull of this exciting new music was strong, drawing singers, songwriters and musicians such as a young Bob Dylan from all across the USA to "The Village" to be a part of that scene.
"At the tender age of 17, I ran away from home," recounts Maria in her new album's liner notes. "I wound up about seven blocks away, taking care of two young girls in exchange for my room and board, while continuing my senior year of high school. Every evening when the kids were in bed and the parents were out, I would spend hours exploring the vast collection of original blues an jazz recordings that took up one whole wall, floor to ceiling, God must have sent me to that family because on those shelves was all the great American music I would end up loving and exploring my whole life!"
During the same time, Maria discovered the bluegrass and "old timey" music of the American rural south, which also informed her musical upbringing. All of these elements inspired Maria to sing, learn how to play the fiddle and perform, eventually becoming a member of the Even Dozen Jug Band, whose members included John Sebastian, David Grisman and Stefan Grossman. She later joined the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, which included her future husband, Geoff Muldaur. It was also around that time that she met legendary blues singer Victoria Spivey, who took Maria under her wing and taught her the finer points of blues singing and performing.
Throughout her critically-lauded career as a singer and performer, Maria has held tight to her roots, carrying the torch for these truly American music forms. Even her substantial commercial success with songs such as "Midnight at the Oasis," "I'm a Woman" and others, owes a debt to the music she loves.
Naughty, Bawdy & Blue completes the trilogy of albums the acclaimed singer has released as a tribute to classic women blues singers from the 1920s through the 1940s. Both of Maria's previous albums in this series for Stony Plain Records, which is distributed in the U.S. by Navarre Corporation, were nominated for Grammy Awards: Richland Woman Blues (2001) and Sweet Lovin' Ol' Soul (2005).
Backing Maria Muldaur on most of the new album is James Dapogny's Chicago Jazz Band, who often performed with blues great Sippie Wallace, one of the blues women honored on the new CD. Dapogny's band provides the perfect accompaniment of instruments (clarinet, sax, trumpet, trombone, tuba, banjo, guitar, piano, bass and drums) to these songs, a sassy mix of blues and jazz.
Maria's fellow "blues sister" Bonnie Raitt makes a special guest appearance on Naughty, Bawdy & Blue singing a duet with Maria on "Separation Blues," a song written by Sippie Wallace, with whom Bonnie toured in the '70s and '80s. During that time, both Maria and Bonnie got the opportunity to sing the song with Sippie, who passed away in 1986
"How great to hear these classic blues again, done up right by one of my favorite singers and the incredible James Dapogny's Chicago Jazz Band," says Bonnie Raitt about the new album. "I loved joining in on Sippie Wallace's 'Separation Blues'!"
Other guests on the CD include Dave Mathews on piano and Kevin Porter on trombone. Naughty, Bawdy & Blue was produced by Maria Muldaur and Ron Harwood and recorded at Solid Sound in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
In addition to Sippie Wallace, the other blues queens saluted on the album include Bessie Smith ("Empty Bed Blues," "A Good Man Is Hard To Find"), Victoria Spivey ("TB Blues," "One Hour Mama"), Alberta Hunter ("Early Every Morn"), Ma Rainey ("Yonder Come The Blues") and Mamie Smith ("Down Home Blues"), as well as songs made famous by Ethel Waters and Sara Martin, plus another Sippie Wallace classic, "Up the Country Blues."
"These singers presented a more sophisticated, polished and urban blues style compared to the more primitive sound of the Delta blues artists," says Maria. "Appearing in large theaters, decked out in lavish finery and accompanied by the most accomplished jazz musicians of the day, their music resonated at the crossroads where jazz and blues meet. In a way, they were among our very first 'pop stars,' selling millions of records in an era when times were hard and money was scarce. These women were 'liberated' way before the term was coined; liberated socially, financially and - most of all -; sexually from the prevailing confines and mores of the time. They transformed their personal feelings and experiences into transcendent artistic expression, skillfully blending ingredients of heartbreak, passion, desire and joy in a way that still speaks to us today."
Maria Muldaur has certainly been a good student of blues and jazz, and Naughty, Bawdy & Blue may be her best statement yet at demonstrating what she has learned.