From her early 1960s jug band recordings to the present day, Maria Muldaur stands unique in her ability to transcend categorization. For over forty years, Muldaur has shared her deep love of roots music. By carefully selecting her repertoire from the best North American songwriters, she has encompassed the blues of the Mississippi Delta, New Orleans gospel and jazz, Western Swing, Appalachian bluegrass/country and everything in between. Best known for her 1973 hit, “Midnight At The Oasis,” Muldaur has always been much more than a sexy one-hit wonder. Blessed with a voice that remains convincing regardless of the genre she chooses to tackle, her performances are a study in American musicology.
This performance, recorded at the legendary Trobadour in Los Angeles, followed the release of Maria Muldaur’s second solo album, Waitress In A Donut Shop. Unlike the majority of her live performances from this classic era, it captures one of the handful of concerts where she was not backed by her usual band of hippie renegades. Instead, this rare performance features Muldaur accompanied by seasoned jazz musicians, who provide an infectious big band feel that swings in all the right places.
None other than the legendary Benny Carter directed Muldaur’s band on this run. Admired as virtually any jazz musician ever, Carter was a contemporary of Duke Ellington (who he played with early in his career) and Count Basie and was universally respected for his abilities as a composer, musician and bandleader. Muldaur’s ensemble on this night featured the likes of Harry “Sweets” Edison and Snooky Young on trumpets and trombonist extraordinaire, J. J. Johnson. This set also captures Muldaur at her commercial peak, performing genre-breaking music with a stellar big band before a very appreciative audience.
Right from the start, Muldaur sets a swinging mood, opening with her take on Fats Waller’s “Squeeze Me,” followed by Jimmy Rogers’ classic “Any Old Time,” a song she recorded on her self-titled first album. The bluesy “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You,” follows. Here Muldaur finds the perfect balance between sweet and sexy, with the musicians providing the perfect backdrop. Up next is “Sweetheart,” the song that contained the lyric that provided the title of her album, Waitress In A Donut Shop. This was one of two songs that Benny Carter and his band actually recorded on that album. Hearing a live rendition, featuring virtually the same musicians as the studio session, is quite the treat. Following this, Muldaur takes a break and encourages the band to do their own thing on Benny Carter’s original composition, “Doozy.”
By this point, everyone is well warmed up and the set kicks into high gear. The classic “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” is a perfect vehicle for Muldaur, taking the performance to the next level. This is such an obvious match, that one can only wonder why she didn’t record it for the album. Her smoldering take on Billy Holliday’s “Lover Man (Where Can You Be)” slows things down, while digging deeper into the emotional nuances of her voice. Her charm is undeniable and the performance is thoroughly engaging. Muldaur wouldn’t get around to releasing this song until almost a decade later. This performance easily stands up to her finest material from this era.