Saturday, July 7, 2018

Geoff & Maria Muldaur – Pottery Pie; Sweet Potatoes

Pottery Pie
Omnivore Recordings

Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band were early favorites of mine when I was first getting into music and record collecting as a kid in the 1960s so I was already familiar with (and a fan of) the husband and wife team of Geoff & Maria Muldaur – stalwarts of the Kweskin band – when they recorded Pottery Pie in 1968, the first of two LPs they would release as a duo. Remarkably, Pottery Pie and the other LP, Sweet Potatoes, have just recently been reissued for the first time in North America.

Geoff and Maria alternated lead vocals on Pottery Pie, an album that seemed to point in directions both would go on to explore later on. Geoff’s version of “Death Letter Blues,” for example, is the kind of track he’d record some years later as a member of Paul Butterfield’s Better Days, while Maria’s version of “Me and My Chauffeur Blues,” presaged the tribute to Memphis Minnie she would produce years later.

Geoff’s other highlights on Pottery Pie include a great version of “New Orleans Hopscop Blues,” originally recorded by Bessie Smith, that combines an updated classic blues feel with a New Orleans-style horn arrangement, and a soulful rendition of “Prairie Lullaby,” a classic recorded by Jimmie Rodgers in 1932, that features great playing by Bill Keith on pedal steel and an uncredited fiddler (who I suspect may have been Maria).

And I must mention Geoff’s fun version of “Brazil,” a classic Brazilian jazz tune that would go on to give Terry Gilliam’s film its name when he used this recording in the movie.

Among Maria’s highlights is her sexy definitive version of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” and the traditional gospel song “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations” with nice harmonies from Betsy Siggins.

But my absolute favorite track on Pottery Pie is Maria’s gorgeous version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind,” with a sublime electric guitar solo by Amos Garrett, perhaps the first of many notable guitar solos Amos would play on albums with both Muldaurs.

Sweet Potatoes
Omnivore Recordings

While Pottery Pie seemed to be equal parts Geoff and Maria, Geoff dominates Sweet Potatoes, their second and final LP, released in 1972. It’s a charming album, but just a tad disappointing that only three of the 10 songs featured Maria.

That said, some of my favorites of Geoff’s leads include “Havana Moon,” a very atypical Chuck Berry tune given a bluesy arrangement featuring Paul Butterfield on harmonica, and “Dardanella,” a New Orleans jazz standard whose intricate arrangement points at the kind of work Geoff would do decades later with his album of Bix Biederbecke material.

Another favorite is the languid but delightful version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Lazy Bones,” with a lead vocal and patented guitar solo by Amos Garrett, that certainly presaged the duo album they recorded on Flying Fish after playing together in Paul Butterfield’s Better Days.

Maria’s three lead vocals are also highlights of Sweet Potatoes. These include “Blue Railroad Train,” a Delmore Bothers song that Doc Watson introduced to the folk revival in the mid’60s, and the title track, a lovely little number on which she’s accompanied by pianist Jeff Gutcheon, the song’s composer.

But my absolute favorite is Maria’s beautiful version of “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be),” a jazz standard sung decades earlier by Billie Holiday. This version features another dreamy guitar solo by Amos as well as strings and woodwinds – including Geoff on clarinet. 

I should note also that the cover painting for Sweet Potatoes was by the great folk and blues performer and visual artist Eric Von Schmidt.

These two albums are much more than footnotes in the discographies of two artists would go on to give us – and still continue to give us a half-century later – much great music.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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