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Muldaur Finds the Passion in Dylan's Love Songs


American singer Maria Muldaur cut her teeth in ‘60s jug bands and many of us will remember her big hit from the ‘70s.

Music critic Robert Christgau says she's topped herself at age 63 with a new album of Bob Dylan love songs.

ROBERT CHRISTGAU: I'd like to swear that Heart of Mine is Maria Muldaur's best album, but that would imply that I know all the others, when I can't even count them. Solo, I get 26.

(Soundbite of record, “Heart of Mine”)

Ms. MARIA MULDAUR (Musician): (Singing) To be alone with you, just you and me.

CHRISTGAU: Muldaur was just about the only female folky of the ‘60s with a sense of humor. And Midnight at the Oasis, which was basically a fluke, is a perfectly worthy adult rock standard 30 years later.

(Soundbite of song Midnight at the Oasis)

Ms. MULDAUR: (Singing) You won't need no harem, honey, when I'm by your side.

CHRISTGAU: With Muldaur, the difference isn't just timing and worldly wisdom. Her voice has gained physical depth without losing its trademark compliancy.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. MULDAUR: (Singing) You dry the tears up from my dream, you pull me from a hole. You quench my thirst and satisfy this burning in my sole.

CHRISTGAU: Muldaur is an articulate woman. Watch for her next time PBS screens the Dylan documentary No Direction Home. But she's no writer. She needs ace material. She sounds great on Memphis Minnie and Peggy Lee, tributes only not like this. The Dylan love songs idea obviously dispenses with the material problem. The danger is over familiarity.

Though most of the selections are from the classic period that ended with Blood on the Tracks, half of them have barely been covered, and not counting Lay Lady Lay, their eroticism has been botched or ignored. Here's The Birds' You Ain't Going Nowhere from Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

(Soundbite of song, “You Ain't Going Nowhere)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Ride me high, tomorrow is the day -

CHRISTGAU: It's plaintiff and twangy, anything but sensual. Now here's Muldaur.

(Soundbite of song, “You Ain't Going Nowhere”)

Ms. MULDAUR: (Singing) Ride me high, tomorrow's the day that my man's coming home. Oh, we going to fly down to the easy chair.

CHRISTGAU: I mean, when a few minutes later she reaches the strange line Genghis Khan could not keep all his men supplied with sheep, I get a whole new idea what those sheep are for. Or take Linda Ronstadt, who's also tackled a few Dylan didities.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. LINDA RONSTADT (Musician): (Singing): Close your eyes, close the door.

CHRISTGAU: An ambitious ingenue at best.

Now here's a woman who knows her own mind.

Ms. MULDAUR: (Singing) Close your eyes, close the door. You don't have to worry anymore.

CHRISTGAU: Not even a fair fight.

Of course, once again excluding Lay Lady Lay - which Muldaur, lest you get the wrong idea, turns into Lay Baby Lay - Dylan himself put no readily discernable sex into these songs. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight, To Be Alone With You and On a Night Like This were played as bagatelles, pop genre exercises to annoy the Dylanologists who are parsing him for prophecy.

But Muldaur takes them literally. She doesn't think they're jokes or object lessons. She treats them as true love songs with fine tunes to boot. Gold mines of (unintelligible). I only wish she'd only rescued the conjugal One More Weekend from the obscurity of which it's languished since New Morning came out in 1970. And I could have done without the title tune from the born again LP Shot of Love. But she compensates with her opener, a Blood on the Tracks track I've always dug but now know I never dropped until Maria Muldaur showed me how.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. MULDAUR (Singing) Like a smile in your fingertips. I like the way that you kiss my lips. I like the cool way you look at me.

BLOCK: Robert Christgau reviewed Heart of Mine: Maria Muldaur Sings the Love Songs of Bob Dylan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Christgau
Robert Christgau contributes regular music reviews to All Things Considered.