Music Reviews: Maria Muldaur, West of Texas, Alex Chilton, Mott the Hoople, and More

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Maria Muldaur with Tuba Skinny, Let’s Get Happy TogetherMaria Muldaur enjoyed a brief flirtation with the pop world with “Midnight at the Oasis,” a Top 10 hit in 1974, but the bulk of her six-decade career has found her immersed in folk, jazz, and blues. She performed in the Even Dozen Jug Band in the early ’60s with John Sebastian, Stefan Grossman, and David Grisman, then sang and played violin in the influential Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band alongside Geoff Muldaur, to whom she was married for several years. Since then, she has issued nearly four dozen excellent solo albums and contributed to records by such artists as Jerry Garcia, Linda Ronstadt, and Paul Butterfield.

Muldaur has never sounded better or more suited to her material, however, than on Let’s Get Happy Together, where she teams up with a New Orleans street outfit called Tuba Skinny for a program of blues, jug band, and Dixieland jazz. Her vocals are a delight and so is the band, which incorporates banjo and guitar as well as such too-rarely-heard instruments as cornet, trombone, clarinet, washboard, and, of course, tuba. 

Another plus is the program, which unearths a dozen mostly little-known tunes from the 1920s and ’30s, including “Road of Stone,” a blues that Victoria Spivey’s sister Sweet Pea recorded; “Got the South in My Soul,” from New Orleans’s Boswell Sisters; and the upbeat title cut, which the late Lillian Hardin Armstrong, second wife of Louis Armstrong, wrote and first recorded.

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West of TexasHeartache, Hangovers & Honky TonksYou don’t have to look further than the band name and album title of this lively 16-track CD to figure out where these musicians are coming from or what their lyrics address. The nearly hour-long program, which sometimes recalls Asleep at the Wheel, owes a big debt to California’s Bakersfield sound as well as to honkytonk and western swing. You can also hear nods to Tex/Mex and Cajun music.

These influences yield a heady brew in the hands of this outfit, which has been in business since 2003 and prominently features twangy guitar, pedal steel, accordion, and fiddle. Jerry Zinn, the group’s leader, provided all of the songs (a few with cowriters), and lends his distinctive baritone to numbers like “My Whiskey Life,” one of five tracks with titles that reference drinking; and “Sound of My Heart Breakin’,” which addresses another of the album’s frequent subjects. 

Put on this record, pour yourself a cold one, close your eyes, fire up your imagination, and presto, you’re on the sawdust-covered dance floor in a roadside Texas joint.

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Alex ChiltonBoogie Shoes: Live on Beale StreetSinger Alex Chilton—known as the lead singer of the mythical Big Star and, earlier, of the late 1960s group the Boxtops (“The Letter,” “Cry Like a Baby”)—died in 2010 at age 59. However, he left behind lots of unreleased material, which has been trickling out ever since. The latest is this excellent and well-recorded 1999 set from a New Orleans benefit concert, which finds Chilton backed by the Hi Rhythm Section, the outfit known for its work on classics by artists like Al Green and Ike and Tina Turner. 

If there’s an album out there on which Chilton appears to be having more fun than he does on this high-energy 10-song CD, I haven’t heard it. Ditto the band, and kudos to its wonderful horn section, which incorporates tenor and baritone saxophonists and a trumpet player.

Highlights include covers of Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline,” Little Richard’s “Lucille,” Holland/Dozier/Holland’s “Where Did Our Love Go” (the Supremes hit), Leiber and Stoller’s “Kansas City” (the Wilbert Harrison hit), Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd’s “634-5789” (the Wilson Pickett hit), and Eugene Williams’s “Trying to Live My Life Without You” (which featured the Hi Rhythm Section on the original Otis Clay recording).

 

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Ian Hunter & Mott the HoopleGold. This bargain-priced three-CD set packs in 26 tracks from the 1972-1974 heyday of England’s Mott the Hoople, plus 24 numbers from group prime mover Ian Hunter’s 1976-1983 solo albums. 

To call Hunter the “most inventive writer of the early Seventies,” as the liner notes here do, is more than a bit of a stretch, and both the solo and group performances have their ups and downs. The best of them, though, find Hunter and the band (which included guitarist Mick Ralphs, who went on to co-found Bad Company) oozing attitude and delivering potent rock and roll. 

Among the well-hooked highlights: such Mott singles as “All the Young Dudes,” which composer David Bowie originally intended for his Ziggy Stardust album; Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane”; and Hunter’s “All the Way From Memphis,” “Honaloochie Boogie,” and “The Golden Age of Rock ’n’ Roll.”

 

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Various artists, Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Celebrating the Winston-Salem SoundThe music scene that flourished in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in the 1960s and 1970s embraced quite a few indie-rock pioneers, many of whom went on to perform with acts like R.E.M, Let’s Active, and the dB’s. 

What would happen if they got together for a new concert performance? The answer is some excellent, frequently garage-rock-style music, as you can hear on this 23-track CD, which preserves a 2018 show at Winston-Salem’s Ramkat Club. The anachronistic-sounding set features material penned by musicians who were part of the original scene, including Mitch Easter, Chris Stamey, and Peter Holsapple—all of whom are among the performers—as well as the late Bud Carlisle, whose band, Captain Speed, proved influential despite never releasing any records. 

Also on the program are some excellent covers, such as the Beatles’ “Got to Get You into My Life” and Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” the latter with a vocal reminiscent of Joe Cocker by Don Dixon, who has produced R.E.M. and the dB’s. In addition, the musicians do a great job with two numbers from 1960s one-hit wonders, the Music Machine’s manic “Talk Talk” and the Electric Prunes’ psychedelic “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night.” 

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Jeff Burger (byjeffburger.com), a longtime magazine editor, has written about music, politics, and popular culture for more than 75 periodicals. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches…

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