Concert Review: Maria Muldaur @ The Egg (Swyer Theatre), 09/15/2023
Some singers see a past hit as an albatross; Maria Muldaur’s albatross is a camel. Her 1973 “goofy song about a camel,” one of the unavoidable “big three” she sings every night, hit 90 minutes into a 50-year retrospective in song and story.
“Oasis” was the big noise that drowned out the rest of her self-named solo album, whose stunning variety forecast the stylistic range she’d explore on 44 later albums. Of the 70’s big three women rock singers, Muldaur remains the most prolific, soulful, and versatile. Linda Ronstadt has retired due to illness. Bonnie Raitt sang and played blues wonderfully in SPAC’s June blues festival, but Muldaur showed off an easy mastery of bluegrass, jug band, blues, jazz, country, and rock Friday. When she dug into a tune, she went deep. “I really meant that one,” she said of a breathtaking late explosion of “Please Give Me Someone to Love.”
First, she told us of discovering music in her Greenwich Village childhood, running away from home and high school to sing. She first sang 15 minutes in, declaring her independence in Peggy Lee’s “I’m a Woman.” A bit raspy here and in the country style “Honey Babe Blues,” her voice smoothed as she wove tales and tunes, speaking less and singing more.
On a stool before drummer Adam Goodhue, between guitarist Craig Caffall and keyboardist Chris Burns (bass lines from his left hand, melodies with his right), she played a little fiddle and tambourine, her hands dancing her songs’ feelings rather than cueing.
She generously hailed her heroes, their faces on a screen behind her. Giving props to such little-known inspirations as Gaither Carlton and Blu Lu Barker, she credited Victoria Spivey with urging her into jug band music and linked her love for New Orleans funk bounce to Dr. John and Allen Toussaint.
Muldaur invested “Oasis” money in a big band Benny Carter built for jazz; Carter said of her then, “That woman can sing anything she wants to” and her best moments Friday proved this.
She went high and low, fast and slow in The McGarrigles’ “Work Song,” protest as a deceptively relaxed waltz. Before “Rockin’ Chair,” she told a tender tale of Carter coaxing its venerable composer Hoagie Carmichael to play it, producing, Muldaur said, “magnolia petals from his piano.” Then she sang it, as Billie Holiday might have on a good night.
After that, “Brickyard Blues” was as exuberant as “Rockin’ Chair” was poignant; and she paired this New Orleans classic with JJ Cale’s bayou groove “Cajun Moon” – swapping echoes with Caffall’s guitar.
Caffall then capably sang Aaron Neville’s part in “Louisiana Love Call,” classy and gentle before the cheerful raunch of “It Ain’t The Meat (It’s the Motion)” and “Don’t You Feel My Leg/Don’t You Make Me High.”
With “Oasis” – not one of the 81-year-old’s better vocals, a hard-to-sing tune she said came from “out there on its own song planet” – these sly, sexy saunters formed her big three must-sing songs.
Then, back to New Orleans for “Let’s Get Happy Together,” recorded recently with Tuba Skinny, and Jon Cleary’s “The Power of Music” – bookended around “Richland Woman Blues” and “Please Send Me Someone to Love.” Caffall went all Jerry Garcia fast-strum scramble, and Muldaur put a Muddy Waters warble on her most emotive song of the night.
Muldaur half-filled The Egg’s (smaller) Swyer Theatre on a busy night of legacy shows; Willie Nelson’s Outlaw revue at SPAC and veteran bluesman Studebaker John uptown at WAMC’s The Linda. She could sing anything she wanted to.