By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Maria Muldaur is one of the music industry's most frustrating phenomena: the artist who never really lived up to her early potential, who had one quick period of pop dominance surrounded by early struggle and later popular decline. In this she reminds you most sharply of Nicolette Larson, who's "Lotta Love" was as ubiquitous in 1978 as Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis" was in 1974 (in a spooky parallel, Larson had sung for David Nichtern--the guy who penned "Midnight"--not long after Muldaur had turned the song into a hit).
A New York folkie who learned some of the craft--particularly fiddling--by hanging out with Doc Watson's friends and family, she met and married Geoff Muldaur in the mid- to late '60s, and both were later in the Kweskin Jug Band . She and Geoff were divorced in 1972, and when Maria went solo, it was with an eponymous album that was more R&B and rock than folk, but style was hardly important--it was Muldaur's sly, sexy voice that made "Midnight" a hit. Her old-timey version of Danny Barker's "Don't You Feel My Leg"--another popular radio choice off of Maria Muldaur--found her blending folk and blues personas into a graceful, sensual, good-lovin' everygal. She then turned the heat up in 1975 for a Lieber-Stoller song that Peggy Lee had a hit with in 1963, the confident "I'm a Woman," off of her second album Waitress in a Donut Shop. A song that fit well within the context of that decade's women's liberation, it found her boasting that she could "make a dress out of a feed bag/And a man outta you."
She relocated to the bay area in the mid-'70s, singing with groups as diverse as the Jerry Garcia Band and the jazzy Benny Carter Orchestra. As she grew older, her voice deepened and assumed other undertones, like a fine bourbon, but her albums--1978's Southern Winds and a string of gospel albums--didn't do it justice. Her "comebacks"--1993's Louisiana Love Call and 1994's Jazzabelle--weren't entirely convincing, but Fanning the Flames, on the prestigious Telarc blues label, finally found her working with material that paid off. Although past shows have found her not above coasting a bit, her rejuvenated command and enthusiasm on her last release bode well for this show.
Maria Muldaur plays Blue Cat Blues Saturday, April 5.