I suppose you’re wondering why I haven’t posted here for a while (You’re probably not, but it makes me feel good to think so). Well, life intruded for a while, but now I’m back with some blues. As it should be.
And I have a new album by an old favorite to talk about — “Let’s Get Happy Together” from Maria Muldaur, with Tuba Skinny, released May 7 by Stony Plain Records.
I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of Maria, but the funky New Orleans musicians who call themselves Tuba Skinny are probably not yet a household word, although this album should move them right along in that direction.
When I say old favorite, that’s exactly what I mean. I have fond memories of Muldaur’s folksy, bluesy music with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in the 1960s, and the start of her solo career in 1972, followed in ’73 by the release of her first effort, “Maria Muldaur.” That album contained the sensual little ditty, “Midnight at the Oasis,” that won Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, and supposedly sparked a mini-population boom among repeat listeners..
And Tuba Skinny could well be a new favorite. Their brand new and sparkling arrangements of vintage music are thoroughly enjoyable re-creations of great old American music.
Of course, Maria has done a lot since her1973 debut. This is her 43rd album, most of which have focused on her love of old blues, jazz and roots music, and especially old-time jazz and blues women.
This combination of Muldaur and Tuba Skinny seems a match made in roots-music heaven (if there’s not yet such a place, it’s just a matter of time). Music from the 1920s and ’30s rolls out here with all the old-time goodness of the originals. It’s not all toe-tapping happiness, though. “Got the South in My Soul,” and “Some Sweet Day,” for example, are more sweet and soulful. But still great songs.
Muldaur, at the age of 77 (1943 was a vintage year), sounds simply great. Her vocals bring just the right amount of sass or sweetness to this fine old music, which sounds just as fresh as it must have 80 or 90 years ago.
Tuba Skinny is equally marvelous. It’s a tasty blend of old blues, jazz and Dixieland, mixed with the spirit of these young musicians and the sheer enthusiasm of their playing. The band consists of Shaye Cohn – cornet; Todd Burdick – tuba; Barnabus Jones – trombone; Jason Lawrence – banjo; Craig Flory – clarinet; Greg Sherman – guitar; Max Bien-Kahn – guitar; and Robin Rapuzzi – washboard.
I’m especially fond of this kind collaboration. Cohn’s cornet and Flory’s clarinet along with Jones’ trombone, and of course, tuba by Burdick, weave in and out of the melodies with magical results. And I do love that clarinet. That’s not to ignore the rest. I just happen to have a thing for the licorice stick — it has a storied history in jazz, and even classical music. But in the right hands, it speaks eloquently of the blues.
All in all, this another fine session from Maria Muldaur, this time with her talented accomplices, Tuba Skinny. Try hard not to miss it.
Here’s a list of the songs on the album, with notes from Maria about the their origins. The titles have links to the original recordings, except for the final song by Victoria Spivey’s sister, Addie “Sweet Pea” Spivey.
1. I Like You Best of All. – originally done by the Goofus Five, a popular band in the ‘20s~The minute I heard it I knew it would be a perfect vehicle for Tuba Skinny!
2. Let’s Get Happy Together – originally written & recorded by Lil Hardin Armstrong, a perky happy song with hip lyrics.
3. Be Your Natural Self – originally sung by a vocalist named Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon, who sometimes sang and entertained as a man and sometimes as a woman, one of the first openly “gender benders” of the era! I’m sure this song had special significance for him!
4. Delta Bound – originally recorded by Ivy Anderson & the Duke Ellington Orchestra, it’s always been one of my favorites and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to finally record this song with the right band!
5. Swing You Sinners – recorded in 1935 by one of the most delightful discoveries of my research… an amazingly talented woman named Valaida Snow, a virtuoso American jazz musician and entertainer who became an internationally celebrated talent. She was known as “Little Louis,” “Queen of the Trumpet,” and was referred to by Louis Armstrong as “the second best trumpet player in the world.” How could I have studied this music for so long and never heard of her??….That’s the beauty of our rich musical legacy…. the more you delve into it, the more there is to discover and enjoy!
6. He Ain’t Got Rhythm – I just love Irving Berlin’s droll, clever lyrics! Recorded by many artists in the 1930s…Billie Holiday’s rendition with Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Benny Goodman, et al, is the one that informs our version.
7. Got the South in My Soul – originally recorded by New Orleans natives, The Boswell Sisters … fabulous singers with incredible musicianship who sang and swung with all the best big bands of the day. Connie Boswell, who so soulfully sang lead, is one of my favorite singers.
8. I Go for That – Dorothy Lamour, another New Orleans native, was married to a big bandleader and sang with his band before she became the exotic sultry Hollywood movie star we all remember. I was delighted to discover what a cool singer she was and to find this droll, witty song – “You play the ‘uke, you’re from Dubuque”… hilarious lyrics!
9. Patience & Fortitude – another song originally done by the incomparable Valaida Snow…An uplifting little sermonette with a useful, positive message.
10. Some Sweet Day– a sweet, wistful song originally done by Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon.
11. Big City Blues – an all-too-true tale of loneliness, originally recorded by a wonderful singer I greatly admire, Annette Henshaw, who recorded over 250 sides and was one of the most popular radio stars of the 1930s.
12. Road of Stone – This raw, soulful, plaintive blues was recorded in the 1920s by Sweet Pea Spivey…. sister of famous classic blues queen, Victoria Spivey, who actually “discovered” me and mentored me in my youth. (BR: I can’t find any audio of this song, but here’s another by Addie “Sweet Pea” Spivey)
And now for some videos:
A quickie of a 1966 or ’68 version of “Big Fat Woman Blues” with the Kweskin band:
“Midnight at the Oasis” from 1974:
The title track from “Let’s Get Happy Together” (alas, audio only):