Monday, July 5, 2010

Maria Muldaur Returns to Her Roots

Maria Muldaur’s successful career as a singer has spanned nearly five decades.

The versatile performer, whose top hit was “Midnight at the Oasis,” was in Port Townsend last month to record her new children’s album, “Down at the Barnyard Dance.” She both sings and produces the album, which features jug band music, one of her favorite kinds of music,and the type that originally inspired her own music career.

Muldaur said that jug band music started back in a time when people would
get together to play music and bring along anything that made sound.

“That could range from a jug to a couple of spoons,” she said on an interview in
the lobby of the Palace Hotel downtown last October after performing at the Upstage with Port Townsend’s own Crowquill Night Owls, who accompany her on her upcoming album.

“My mother would only play classical music for me, but she had a younger sister wholiked what she called “cowboy music,” she said.
The music she would hear was by such artists as Hank Williams and Kitty Wells, and
the tunes grabbed her more than the “seriousness” of classical music. By age 5 she was singing all the songs.

Growing up in Greenwich Village, New York City, Ms. Muldaur was surrounded by
artists and musicians, and was there when both traditional American music -- and Elvis Presley -- were capturing everyone’s interest. People played guitars and fiddles on the city streets and soon she learned a few songs.

When Muldaur was growing up, she didn’t just think about singing -- she sang.
She got friends together to work out harmonies and sang in the school bathroom for the great acoustics. She listened to all kinds of music. Even in college music remained her passion, and by 20 she had decided that her future would be in music.
“I followed my heart,” she said.

I got to get close to the action and see what went into the making of an album when Muldaur invited me to sit in with her at the recoding studio at George Rezendes' house in Port Townsend. I sat behind a glass window that looked into the studio where fiddle-player Suzy Thompson did her takes as Rezendes made adjustments on his sound board.

Muldaur,with her cascade of black curls and black velvet tunic, typed an email beside me but she’d get up to dance when she heard a take she especially liked.

Between takes, Muldaur turned to me.
“Isn’t it something?" she said,"When I saw you back in October, I got the idea to do this album and now here I am doing it! With the help of some terrific people, of course!” she added.

And they sure had a terrific team. The album took 6 days of long hours to record the album -- imagine 11 songs with separate tracks for 6 musicians/instruments and doing an average of 5 takes each song. The musicians worked off of Muldaur’s “scratch vocal,” the vocal track Maria records just for the recording sessions. Once the mix is done, she will add her final vocal, which she plans to do near her home in California after returning from a vacation in Hawaii. She expects the album to be out by next fall.

I asked Muldaur if it was still as fun to make music today as it was 36 albums ago.

“It’s more fun,” she replied. “I used to be nervous but now I’m really comfortable. I can handle anything. Anything can happen and I’ll just sail above it!”

And is doing a children’s album easier than a regular album?

“Well, it’s more fun” she replied. “It’s more lighthearted, playful, and uplifting music. So in that sense, it’s easier!”