East Side Slim
Maria Muldaur & her Garden of Joy – Good Time Music for Hard Times – Stony Plain, 2009
If it seems as if Maria Muldaur has been around for a long time, well, she has. Emerging from the New York City folk and jug band scene in the 1960s as a member of both The Even Dozen Jug Band and The Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Muldaur has returned to her deepest jug roots with this new CD. She has been singing blues and blues-oriented material for the majority of her career (yes, even though she had a huge hit with “Midnight at the Oasis”). Beginning with her albums recorded for Black Top Records in the 1990s, she has produced a string of CDs (for various record labels) exploring various “flavors” of bluesy musical styles.
With her current CD, Good Time Music for Hard Times, Maria has revisited some 1930’s jug band tunes, sneaking in a couple new tunes, and adding current lyrical content to traditional songs. Muldaur invited many long-time friends to play on the CD. Talk about your A-list group of players: John Sebastian, Dan Hicks, David Grisman, Taj Mahal, Danny Caron, Suzy Thompson and many others performed the music heard on this album. While Maria’s voice is a little more coarse here than on some of her past work (whether purposefully done or simply from years of use) the extra texture in her voice works very well with in the context of this material. The CD paper case contains photographs and illustrations of the musicians, and they lend a feel of how much fun everyone had while making this CD. My only complaint, or wish, really, is that there would have been a track-by-track breakdown of who played what on which track, but that’s a minor quibble and doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the music in the least.
The Songs: (song credits in parentheses)
1. The Diplomat – (Dan Hicks)
--This percussion-filled guitar-driven up-tempo tune is an old-sounding tune with up-to-date lyrics (how about those hyphens!). While it may be best to turn the other cheek and to try to get along, it sure can be frustratingly difficult sometimes…
2. Shake Hands And Tell Me Goodbye – (traditional; arranged and adapted by M. Muldaur)
--The fiddle comes to the fore in this tale of a sweet daddy who thought it was ok to share his “wares” around town. As he found out, it wasn’t, and he lost his real good thing.
3. Shout You Cats – (traditional; arranged and adapted by M. Muldaur)
--Maria’s voice is especially coarse on this tune, but it fits the vibe of the cut very well. It’s hard to tell how many folks are playing on this song...everything but the kitchen sink (and that may be here, too!)
4. The Ghost Of The St. Louis Blues – (B. Curtis & J R Robinson)
--I had never heard this song before. It’s a very cool take on “St. Louis Blues”, giving it a minor key and a melancholy feel with some additional material and interesting arrangements.
5. Let It Simmer – (Dan Hicks)
--Sit back and soak up the advice contained in this gentle song – don’t overreact to what’s going on around you. Take a few minutes to ponder and think and to keep that blood pressure nice and low. Don’t sweat it, ‘bro.
6. Sweet Lovin’ Ol’ Soul – (traditional; arranged and adapted by M. Muldaur)
--This old slow blues is a feature for Maria’s vocal work, and is also a nice feature piece for Suzy Thompson’s fiddle playing.
7. Medley: Life’s Too Short / When Elephants Roost In Bamboo Trees – (traditional; arranged and adapted by M. Muldaur)
--This medley is sung as a duet with Dan Hicks, and frankly it’s a lot of fun, especially when they move into the …Elephants Roost section of the medley. Life’s Too Short is a gentle, sexy, swinging tune, while When Elephants Roost in Bamboo Trees swings at a more robust pace. Yes, there is an analogy here, but there’s no need to be more specific…
8. Garden Of Joy – (Clifford Hayes)
--This song lent its name to the conglomeration of artists (friends) Maria recorded with on this CD. It’s got a nice back porch country vibe, with that tasty fiddle driving the melody along.
9. He Calls That Religion – (traditional; arranged and adapted by M. Muldaur)
--Uh-oh, the clergyman of record in this one lost his head and laid that old Bible down…must have been a baker because he seems to have quite a fondness for jelly rolls. Yas yas yas… Good jug on this one, as well as fiddle, guitars, banjo, harmonica, and everything found in the kitchen, including stuff from under the kitchen sink.
10. I Ain’t Gonna Marry – (Kweskin, Greene, Richmond, Keith)
--This one sure sounds like a Jimmie Rodgers track to me, although Kweskin, et al claim writing credit. I’ll leave that one alone for now. This cut does capture that early country/bluesy feel of Rodgers’ music quite well.
11. Bank Failure Blues – (traditional; arranged and adapted by M. Muldaur)
--We have a real nice, subdued slow blues here featuring guitar and mandolin, as well as Maria’s vocals. As for topical lyrics, you can’t get much more topical than the Bank Failure Blues. Some thing’s never change, unfortunately.
12. The Panic Is On – (traditional; arranged and adapted by M. Muldaur)
--While this song is a little more up-tempo than the previous one, the lyrical content is just as dire. You know it’s getting tough out there when you can say you “saw a man this morning walkin down the street… in his BVD’s…. with no shoes on his feet” because all his money was sucked up by a bunch of rich cats in cloud-high towers with no cares in the World.
The title of this CD is quite apt today, and it’s amazing (and sad, really) how songs written during and about the tough times of the 1930s are so applicable to the tough times existing today. Maria Muldaur and her Garden of Joy have succeeded in putting together an old-timey good-feeling album that sounds current, modern and accessible for today’s audience. The sound quality is fantastic, which allows us to hear every instrument, something that can’t be said about jug band music recordings when they were initially popular in the early decades of the 1900s. Of note is the playing of Suzy Thompson. If it were up to me, Thompson would have been listed higher up in the list of credits, as her fiddle work on the CD is fantastic. In fact, her fiddling provides the melody lines to the majority of the songs here. Let’s rate this bad girl. East Side Slim is giving an STLBluesometer rating of 4.00 to Good Time Music for Hard Times from Maria Muldaur & her Garden of Joy.
For more information concerning Maria Muldaur, see the following websites:
- aka "East