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Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy - Good Time Music for Hard Times

Stony Plain Records

12 Tracks, 46 minutes 20 secs

Rating: BUY IT!

Styles: Classic Depression Jug Band Era made humorously contemporary, fresh and light

I confess, I write reviews because I learn. Reviewing music forces me to research music; and once you peel back the blue layers to the early 1900’s through about the 1950’s, you realize there’s this little sweet spot called the 30’s. Well Maria Muldaur doesn’t have to do research. She grew up in NY City’s Greenwich Village at a time of the intersecting root music cacophonies of blues, jazz, country, western, bluegrass, folk, jug band, gospel and plain ole old-timey music! No, she didn’t grow up in the 30’s; she grew up during a revival of all the great music genres.

Ah, back to the 30’s--where root music flowered like a garden—blues, jazz, big band, swing, ragtime, and (yes) jug band music. So someone is literally playing a jug, you might ask? Yes, it’s true—that, plus a mix of other various and numerous traditional and home-made instruments. And here in Maria Muldaur’s latest release, you’ll find a most skillful delivery by the most skillful of players reminding us blues lovers of our roots music ethnomusicology. Oh, and I should mention Maria’s CD has been nominated for a 2010 Blues Music Award in the category of Acoustic Album of the Year.

Look at this amazing line up: we have the one and only “America’s First Lady of Roots Music” vocalist and producer, Maria Muldaur; John Sebastian is on baritone guitar, 6-string banjo, guitar and harmonica; David Grisman is on mandolin, mandola and “retro banjo”; Taj Mahal is on banjo and guitar; (the late) Fritz Hammond is on jug Track 6; Kit Stovepipe is on National guitar, jug, and washboard; Alex Anagnostopoulos is on banjo and provides harmony vocals Track 4; Jim Rothermel is on clarinet, slide whistle and provides musical direction; Danny Caron is on guitar; Ruth Davies and Tim Eschelman are on bass; Suzy Thompson is on fiddle; Bowen Brown is on drums and percussion; Pete Devine provides percussion; Bob Schwartz is on trumpet, Kevin Porter is on trombone and Dan Hicks provides vocal fun with Maria on Track 7. Yes, you got it: that’s 17 players. Can someone say HOUSE PARTY! Gosh, I only hope I didn’t miss anyone. I can see why she aptly used ‘garden of joy’ in the title.

I have to say as a North and South Carolina gal, how pleasing it is to know that in her early days, Maria journeyed to the rural South to ‘sit at the feet of and play with SC’s very own (the late and great) Reverend Gary Davis, as well as the great Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Victoria Spivey and Doc Watson & the Watson Family. There with the Watson’s, she crafted her fiddle skills while soaking up Appalachian music and culture. It all comes together here in her own revival (with several former jug band mates) with Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy release.

My track highlights include all of the Dan Hick tracks starting with Maria’s rendition of his original Track 1, “The Diplomat”--a thigh slappin’ foot tappin’ ‘is it me or what?’ ditty. Dan’s Track 5 original “Let It Simmer” has Maria delivering a wonderful ole-timey sound and message where she demonstrates her expertise in knowing there’s no need to oversell phrasing and delivery of a good tune—she just lays it down bluesy smooth. Next would be Dan and Maria’s traditional medley style duo in Track 7’s “Life’s Too Short / When Elephants Roost in Bamboo Trees”. Ah, this one conjures nostalgic 30’s-40’s classic movie sound track and The Cats and the Fiddle thoughts! You’ll love Dan and Maria’s sexy teasing tosses, ‘scattin’ monkey impersonations and their harmonic vocal blend. Track 11’s “Bank Failure Blues” is as down-to-the-Delta depression era blues as you can get with a message and mood that’s timeless and applicable to today’s bank and financial crisis. The opening acoustic solo is beautifully performed (as in all the tracks—just take your pick). And last but not least of my personal favorites is Track 12, “The Panic Is On”. Just like Track 11, we’re reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same. To summarize, you won’t find a more enjoyable jug band root music acoustic CD than this one.

If you want high-powered electric blues-rockin-rifts, vocals and arrangements, then don’t come here. But if you want a light-hearted nostalgic excursion with someone I’d call “The WC Handy of Female Blues-Root Heroes”, then pick yourself some flowers from this garden. Talk about cleverly positioning this timeless traditional music genre for a contemporary decade-ending revival. Honestly, I put this CD in my car’s player, what—a month ago? And had it not been for a reminder ‘hey, Belinda, review please?!’, I’d still be driving down root music highway with it. When I find a favorite, it stays in my player for months at a time, and this one definitely goes into my ‘proud to own/favorites’ collection. So do yourself a favor and pick up a copy today. See you and your garden of joy flowers at the Blues Music Awards in May, Maria!

Reviewer Belinda Foster is a Columnist and Contributing Writer for Greenville SC Magazine “Industry Mag” and former manager of Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’Blues. She currently books blues-rock-jam musicians and is a devoted promoter and supporter of live blues root music and history, making frequent trips to “The Crossroads” and Clarksdale Mississippi, birthplace of the blues. Her column “The Upstate Blues Report” can be found on line at

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