Thursday, April 16, 2009
She’s a playa, not a preacher, but Maria Muldaur can’t resist speaking out on the state of the world in her most recent album, Yes We Can! (TelArc). The former Jim Kweskin Jug Band lead singer is most famous, of course, for hits like “Midnight at the Oasis,” “Don’t You Feel My Leg” and “It Ain’t The Meat, It’s The Motion,” earning her the unofficial moniker “Fertility Goddess” because of the number of children conceived by couples under her raunchy spell.
Does the new collection of political songs, with back-up vocals from The Women’s Voices for Peace Choir, including the likes of Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, Phoebe Snow, Holly Near, Odetta (not to mention Jane Fonda and Marianne Williamson) mean that she’s giving up her racy roots?
“Not at all,” the Mill Valley-based musician laughs. “All the songs on the CD are very positive. I’m a fertility goddess first and foremost. Part of that is being a purveyor of fun, which is why I’m bringing my Redhot Bluesiana band down to Sly McFly’s.”
It includes special guests Mighty Mike Schermer, her guitar player for many years and a Central Coast favorite, New Orleans-style keyboardist Dale Ackerman and Dave Tucker on drums.
Yes We Can! includes three covers of songs by her old folk-scene-running buddy, Bob Dylan, as well as Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” Edwin Hawkins’ “War” and staples like “Down By The Riverside.”
“It’s protest music you can dance to,” Muldaur says.
“I got the idea for the album in the fall of 2007,” she continues. “I was never one to gravitate to protest music, but it morphed into a pro-peace album because of everything that was going on. It wasn’t until I was mixing it that someone said, ‘Do you realize Barack’s using that phrase, ‘Yes, We Can’ as his campaign slogan? You should send it to him! I didn’t know much about him – I was a Hillary girl at the time – but I realized he’d picked that phrase for his battle cry for the same reason I was attracted to the song. It puts out a very positive message in the face of all these absolutely daunting challenges we’re facing as a nation, and as a planet.
“I thought, ‘What the hell,’ and sent him the track. Eight days later, he sent me back a personal, handwritten letter – I nearly fainted, the only thing I’m used to seeing in the mail are bills – telling me, ‘It perfectly fits the spirit of our campaign. I hope to be able to thank you in person before too long. Until then, be well. Barack Obama.’”
But, Muldaur hastens to add, she “didn’t record the album to be political – it’s beyond that. This isn’t a financial crisis the country is facing, it’s a spiritual crisis.”
Hence self-help guru Williamson’s involvement?
“I went to one of her book talks and was standing in line to meet her but when she realized it was me, she said, ‘Omigod, I used to love you when I was in college. No, let me amend that, I used to want to be you.’ She was an aspiring singer and has a cool, jazzy little voice.”
Muldaur adds that each of the folk legends she asked to join the Women’s Choir agreed immediately.
“They all thought the idea of a bunch of women raising their voices in the cause of peace was a wonderful idea. That’s why I asked them, not because they were famous. It was more a vibrational thing than whether they were singing in tune – though blessedly they were in tune, too.”
She even had the temerity to change the lyrics of her old friend Dylan’s classic, “Masters of War.”
“I love that song, but when I get to that last verse, ‘I hope you die and your death will come soon,’ it stuck in my craw,” she said. “He wrote it when he was an understandably angry 20-year-old looking at being drafted in the Vietnam war.
“Now, those of us who’ve survived have gleaned enough wisdom to feel you can’t create peace by being aggressive and singing lyrics like that. So I was swimming one day and got an inspiration for the last verse.” (Muldaur’s considerably toned-down version ends: “A new day is dawning when we’ll all live as one.”)
As she tells the story, “I got in touch to explain why I couldn’t do the verse in the context of this album and the message we’re getting out of women raising their voices for peace, how it didn’t work. I heard back from his people – he’s good with it.”
Athough Muldaur is still disturbed by the state of the world, she’s heartened by Obama’s election, emphasizing that she’ll be rocking the house with “gumbo-flavored blues and what I call swamp-funk” during her Monterey gig.
“This is my 35th album in 35 years,’’ she adds. “I haven’t been sitting at home eating bon-bons and collecting royalties – I’m not a nostalgia act.’’
MARIA MULDAUR plays 9pm Friday and Saturday, April 17-18, at Sly McFly’s, 700 Cannery Row, Suite A. $10. 649-8050.