Maria Muldaur: Yes We Can!

Maria Muldaur’s Yes We Can! will be released on July 22th. Muldaur departs from her signature romantic blues sound for what she calls her first protest album. She covers thirteen peace-centric tunes originally recorded by Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Allen Toussaint, Buddy Miller, Edwin Starr, and even Garth Brooks, and is backed by “The Women’s Voices For Peace Choir” composed of legendary female singers, activists, writers, and other prominent women. Among them are Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Phoebe Snow, Odetta, actress Jane Fonda, Holly Near, Kimberly Bass, Rhonda Benin, Linda Tillery, Keta Bill, Annie Sampson, Jeanie Tracy, Valerie Troutt, Indian holy woman Amma, Maria’s daughter Jenni Muldaur (when is this girl going to record a solo album?), and authors Anne Lamott, Marianne Williamson, and Dr. Jean Shinoda.

Muldaur says regarding her thirty-fifth recording: “What’s been weighing on my heart and mind so heavy it hurts is the sad, deplorable, alarming condition of our Planet today – wars, nuclear proliferation, global climate change, rapid depletion and rape of the Earth’s once bountiful resources, genocide, poverty, starvation…If things in this world continue the war they are, there soon won’t be any people to make romance and babies, and no place to do so either!”

The opening cover of Earl King’s “Make A Better World” is adequate, but the lukewarm melody isn’t the best setting for Muldaur’s rough edged voice. Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)” is a much better fit, though I do wish there was as much depth to the arrangement as there is in Maria’s vocal. I think I would have enjoyed her soulful renditions of Edwin Starr’s “War” and “Why Can’t We Live Together” much more if I hadn’t heard similar versions on Joan Osborne‘s How Sweet It Is.

The group renderings of Toussaint’s “Yes We Can, Can” and the Buddy Miller/Victoria Williams jug band tune “This Old World” are fine enough and would undoubtedly be impressive in a live performance, but the famous ladies that make up the “Women’s Voices For Peace Choir” are natural leads and thus not the most harmonious background singers. The exceptions are the traditional “Down By The Riverside” and the finale “Everyone In The World”. The former unites these illustrious feminine voices into an anti-war gospel choir and the latter weaves them together into an ethereal, exotic hush.

A surprising favorite is the gospel style cover of Garth Brooks’ “We Shall Be Free”. The majestic presence of Odetta, Joan Baez, and Holly Near with Muldaur transcend the original. It is worth purchasing the album just to hear these four eminent female voices together in one song.

In the end, it’s three Bob Dylan anti-war songs that prove to be the stand out tracks on Yes We Can and possibly the most powerful performances of Muldaur’s career. The album finally comes alive with the riveting “John Brown”, as the bluesy song gives Muldaur the proper outlet for her rich voice. “License To Kill” and especially the spine-tingling reworking of “Masters Of War” are also truly stunning.

The bottom line is that Muldaur has a substantial voice, these are significant folk songs, and there are some truly breathtaking moments on the disc. But objectively, her vocals don’t mesh nearly as well as with most of these tunes as they did on last year’s marvelously sultry blues collection Naughty, Bawdy & Blue (#8 on my Top Albums of 2007). This won’t matter to people who are more concerned with the lyrical message of peace, but I feel that the vocal performance and musical arrangements are more important when a singer chooses to cover the songs of others rather than write something original.

Maria Muldaur – Masters Of War (mp3 expired)

Maria Muldaur Official Site

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