In August 1973, Maria Muldaur released her debut solo album, an eclectic blend of folk, blues, country, and jazz. The self-titled album, Maria Muldaur, contained the popular single “Midnight at the Oasis,” which charted at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, as she demonstrated in the 11 songs on the album, Muldaur felt as comfortable crooning the high lonesome of a sweet, longing-for-home, country song (“My Tennessee Mountain Home”) as she did delivering throaty vamps on down-to-the-bone steamy blues (“Don’t You Feel My Leg (Don’t You Get Me High)”). Muldaur’s incredible vocal range and impeccable phrasing introduced Muldaur to a wider audience.
Muldaur was hardly a stranger to fans of folk, blues, and jug band music, though. In the early ‘60s she was active in the folk scene in Greenwich Village, where she was born Maria D’Amato. In 1963, she joined the Even Dozen Jug Band, whose other members included David Grisman, Stefan Grossman, and John Sebastian; the band released only one album. D’Amato then moved on, joining Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band as the featured vocalist and occasional fiddle player; the band released four albums. She married Geoff Muldaur when they were in the Kweskin band, and the couple released two albums after the breakup of the Kweskin group.
After the marriage ended in 1972, she retained her married name. One year later, she released Maria Muldaur, which produced two hits—“Midnight at the Oasis” and “Three Dollar Bill.” The album reached #3 on the Billboard 200 and was certified gold on May 13, 1974.
Maria Muldaur opens with Muldaur’s swaying, swinging New Orleans second line version of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Any Old Time”; the song features Ry Cooder on acoustic guitar, David Lindley on Hawaiian guitar, and Jim Dickinson on piano. Muldaur lights up the smoky piano lounge with seductive torch singing on her sensual “Midnight at the Oasis.” Muldaur’s pure vocals ring like crystal bells on her version of Dolly Parton’s “My Tennessee Mountain Home”; Muldaur is supported by Clarence White on guitar, David Grisman on mandolin, Richard Greene on fiddle, and Ellen Kearney’s and Greg Prestopino’s ethereal background vocals. Dr. John lays down soulful, striding piano and smokin’ horn arrangements on Muldaur’s sizzling version of Blue Lu Barker’s “Don’t You Feel My Leg (Don’t You Get Me High),” while Muldaur showcases her vocal versatility with her scat singing on the Django Reinhardt and Stefan Grappelli-like “Walkin’ One and Only,” penned by Dan Hicks. These two songs are alone worth the price of the album.
Memphis meets New Orleans on the soulful Cajun swing of Dr. John’s “Three Dollar Bill”; led by Dr. John’s horn arrangements and cascading piano notes, Muldaur is backed on vocals by Bettye LaVette, Gloria Jones, and Jessica Smith. The album closes with the Laura Nyro-like chamber piece “Mad Mad Me,” written by Wendy Waldman; Greg Prestopino’s emphatic piano chords create haunting echoes over which Muldaur’s commanding vocals float.
Fifty years later, Maria Muldaur underscores Muldaur’s brilliance as a vocalist and her ability to make any song and any style her own. To celebrate the album’s 50th anniversary, Muldaur is presenting her Way Past Midnight multimedia retrospective in performances around the country.