Sunday, October 07, 2012

Maria Muldaur's Loving Memphis Minnie Tribute

Memphis Minnie was a pioneer in what we now call “country blues,” who recorded over 200 sides from the late twenties until the early fifties. One of the greatest blues performers of her time, her popularity was reflected by the fact she recorded as often as she was. A marvelous guitarist as she was a singer, she often recorded duets with then husband Kansas Joe McCoy in what some would call the “Memphis style.” After the break-up of their marriage, she started playing in small combos that would foreshadow the post-war Chicago blues ensemble style. In her career she made numerous classic recordings including Bumble Bee, Frisco Town, What Fault You Find Of Me?, What’s The Matter With the Mill, Tricks Ain’t Workin’ No More, Joe Louis Strut, Me and My Chauffeur, and Black Rat Swing. She recorded over 200 blues over her career. 

Maria Muldaur has long been a fan of Memphis Minnie and performing Minnie’s songs for decades. She has produced … First Came Memphis Minnie (Stony Plain), which is subtitled “a loving tribute.” Included are performances by Maria along with Rory Block, Ruthie Foster, Bonnie Raitt, Phoebe Snow and Koko Taylor with support from Del Rey, David Bromberg, Steve Freund, Alvin ‘Youngblood’ Hart, Steve James and Roy Rogers. 11 of the 13 performances are newly recorded. The performances of Phoebe Snow and Koko Taylor were previously issued.

There's plenty of music to enjoy here, much of it performed by Ms. Muldaur herself on a program that includes a few of Memphis Minnie’s most famous songs and a number of lesser known ones. If her voice is not quite a supple as in her own girlish days, Maria Muldaur is perhaps even more expressive a singer and this is evident on the opening Me and My Chauffeur Blues, with Roy Rogers providing nice easy swinging backing. Ain’t Nothin’ in Ramblin’, has a wonderful vocal from Bonnie Raitt with Steve Freund adding his guitar to hers. I’m Goin’ Back Home is one of two vocal duets by Maria with Alvin ‘Youngblood’ Hart (who provides guitar backing) that revive Minnie’s duets with Kansas Joe McCoy.

There is a bit larger group including Del Ray and Steve James backing Maria’s vocal on I’m Sailin’ with its wistful lyric. Rory Block’s sings When You Love Me backed by her guitars followed by Maria’s hopeful vocal on Long As I Can See You Smile, with Steve James adding mandolin in addition to Del Ray’s guitar, followed by Lookin’ the World Over, with just some lovely accompaniment from Del Ray. Phoebe Snow’s rendition of In My Girlish Days dates from a 1976 recording that included David Bromberg in the backing who adds mandolin along with guitar in the backing of Snow’s vocal. Ruthie Foster backed by a small group with Steve Freund’s guitar delivers a wonderful vocal on Keep Your Big Mouth Closed, which adapts the Sitting on Top of the World melody. Maria’s vocal on Tricks Ain’t Walkin’ is one of her finest here with Del Ray on guitars and Dave Earl adding mandolin here. 

The album closes with Koko Taylor’s rendition of Black Rat Swing that was licensed from Alligator from what I believe was her last album. Bob Margolin was among those on the session. It is an interesting choice insofar as it was written and sung by her husband, Ernest ‘Little Son Joe’ Lawler, under whose name it was originally released. In any event, it is a nice finale to this loving tribute to one of the greatest blues artists who ever lived.

I received a review copy from a publicist and it is scheduled for release on Tuesday October 9.

No comments: