The Singer’s Singer: Jenni Muldaur’s Dearest Darlin’
I promised video interviews with Jenni Muldaur when I posted the night after her record release, and they are now at Smoke, along with a song from the record, James Brown’s “Lost Someone.”
If you’re a singer’s singer, someone others turn to for vocal prowess, whom do you turn to for inspiration? Jenni Muldaur’s answers in our exclusive interview backstage at The Living Room before her record release party, may surprise. Dolly Parton anyone?
Jenni has wide and deep taste as evidenced by her new record, Dearest Darlin’. A fixture on the downtown NYC singer/songwriter scene, she appears often with friends such as Teddy Thompson, Martha Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright, and Joseph Arthur. That is, when she’s not touring with the likes of David Byrne and Lou Reed. But when it’s your record, when you step front and center to showcase those in-demand vocals, what do you choose? R&B, soul, Bo Diddley, and what producers Don Fleming and Steve Rosenthal dialed up as jump blues. Even a field holler from the venerable Lomax archive. The result is high-energy, sweaty, romantic, and soulful.
Jenni and Joseph Arthur
Dearest Darlin’ provides a showcase for Muldaur’s range from blues shouts to romantic purrs. The material rounds up soul and r&b mostly from the 50s and 60s (along with an original by Muldaur) without being a greatest-hits survey. The title song, a Bo Diddley chugger from 1957, leads a line-up that includes material first heard from Lee Dorsey, Big Maybelle, James Brown (an intrepid version of “Lost Someone” from 1961), an Alabama field holler recorded in 1934 by Alan Lomax, and NRBQ. Producers Fleming and Rosenthal worked with Muldaur to find songs from the blues and soul catalogue that allowed room to interpret, and then found a spacious sound that let the all-star band swing from intimate feeling to full-blast, horn-driven soul revue.
The daughter of folk-revival pioneers who took her first back-up gig with Todd Rundgren at age 20, Jenni is nothing if not a pro. Yet in her own songs and in person, she betrays a winsome vulnerability. An emotional openness that may be the key to the interpreter’s art. She has the pure power to lead what amounts to an all-star R&B show band, but the skills to put that facility at the service of someone else’s art.
Muldaur recently debuted her new record at The Living Room on New York’s Lower East Side, and celebrated by playing it to a sold-out crowd (that included bosses Lou Reed and David Byrne), as well as friends Teddy Thompson and Joseph Arthur who joined her on the record and onstage. The band at The Living Room included luminaries like Brian Jackson, Gil Scott-Heron’s musical partner, and Lenny Pickett from the Tower of Power horns section.
Jenni and Teddy Thompson
With all due respect to Lou and David, we can’t wait til Jenni comes off the road to raise the roof again.