Best known for that ditty about camels, Maria Muldaur has since established herself as one of the finest folk/country/jazz/blues/gospel interpreters ever to have a Top Five single. After 26 years and 24 solo albums, Muldaur — inspired by a trip to Memphis’ Beale Street — digs deep into her roots and pays tribute to the classic blues women of the ’20s and ’30s. Aided by the similarly inclined Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, and Alvin “Youngblood” Hart, Muldaur breezes through 14 tunes from icons Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie, as well as obscurities from the Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Blind Willie Johnson.
Keeping the unplugged accompaniment stripped way down to a single guitar or piano and occasional bass, Muldaur has room to maneuver her evocative vocals that shift from gritty groans to a high-pitched edgy trill. Far from a dry history lesson, these songs are performed with the strength and tenacity of the women who originally sang them. Whether spinning saucy, double entendre lyrics in “Me and My Chauffeur Blues” (“the way you ride so easy, I can’t turn you down”) or longing for her Southern home after moving north during the Depression in Bessie Smith’s “Far Away Blues,” the singer remains invigorated and inspired throughout. By returning to her late-‘60s Jim Kweskin Jug Band coffeehouse days, Maria Muldaur has discovered her middle-aged oasis with Richland Woman Blues. And there’s not a camel in sight..
Hal Horowitz /AMG