This is the first time I've crossed paths with the music of Maria Muldaur since she had a big hit with "Midnight at the Oasis" in 1974. If the evidence of "Meet Me Where They Play the Blues," her third album for Telarc, is anything to go by, I've been missing out on something for the last 25 years.
The material for "Meet Me Where They Play the Blues" was selected to fit with Charles Brown's piano style. The majority of the songs were covered by singers of the caliber of Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole, and Jack Teagarden, as well as Brown himself. Unfortunately Brown took ill before recording began, but his inspiration remained the driving force for the project. He did manage to lay down vocals for one track ("Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You"), however, from his nursing home in December. Like most things Charles Brown had a hand in, the song just oozes class, and it's given added poignancy by the fact that it turned out to be his last recording.
The style throughout is a mixture of the West Coast Blues sound associated with Charles Brown, and New Orleans jazz. Appropriately, the mood is largely laid back, with the band providing sympathetic accompaniment to Muldaur's smoky vocals, and David Matthews doing a particularly fine job on piano. The band are equally at home when the pace is increased too, as on the swinging, lyrically suggestive "It Ain't The Meat, It's The Motion."
The New Orleans feel is most evident on the title track, where Jim Rothermel supplies the wonderful wailing clarinet. It's also Rothermel's clarinet you can hear on "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good For You." Although "He Don't Have the Blues Anymore" opens with a New Orleans Blues style intro, it soon evolves into a singalong swinging spiritual. It's dedicated to Johnny Adams (who also worked with Muldaur) and Brown. Spiritual backing vocals are provided by the Promised Land Singers, who resurface on a rousing version of Brown's "The Promised Land", which closes the album.
"Meet Me Where They Play the Blues" is very classy cabaret Blues/Jazz. It's mood music at its finest. Whether you just need something to unwind to after a hard day at the office, or you want to create the right mood for a romantic candlelit dinner, Muldaur's latest CD is just the tonic.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.