Thursday, May 24, 2018

Geoff & Maria Muldaur: “Sweet Potatoes” (1972/2018) CD Review

Geoff & Maria Muldaur recorded two albums together. The first, Pottery Pie, came out in 1968. The second, Sweet Potatoes, came out four years later. And that was that. It wasn’t just the end of their recordings together, but also the end of their marriage. Both went on to further successes, as you’re undoubtedly aware. And somehow both Pottery Pie and Sweet Potatoes remained unreleased on CD in the U.S. until now. Unlike Pottery Pie, Sweet Potatoes contains some original material, written by Geoff Muldaur. Like the CD release of Pottery Pie, this disc contains new liner notes, focusing on interviews with both Geoff and Maria. Maria Muldaur doesn’t have as strong a presence on this album as on the previous release. Amos Garrett, Bill Keith and Billy Mundi all played on Pottery Pie and return for this album. Fellow Grateful Dead fans will be interested to know that John Kahn plays bass on this album. There are several other guest musicians as well.

The album starts with “Blue Railroad Train,” a totally enjoyable country tune written by Alton Delmore. That’s followed by a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Havana Moon.” This version has folk and blues elements, and features Paul Butterfield on harmonica. Then we get “Lazybones,” a relaxed, jazzy gem with a wonderful vocal performance from Amos Garrett. It opens with a bit of dialogue between Geoff and Amos, and likewise ends with a bit of dialogue. “You didn’t even offer me a drink.” The part that makes me laugh is when Amos says “No, no” and then “Yes, yes,” just the way he delivers those lines. This track features Bobby Notkoff on violin. “Lazybones” was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer.

“Cordelia” is the first of the album’s original compositions, written by Geoff Muldaur. It’s a lively number, and it has nothing to do with King Lear, if you were wondering. In the liner notes, Geoff mentions he “had an infatuation with a girl named Cordelia.” So there you go. I like the addition of trombone to this one. That’s followed by “Dardanella,” which comes as a delightful surprise. These guys certainly did not limit themselves to any one single type of music, and let their hearts take them where they would. And good thing, too, as this is one of my favorite tracks, with its horn section and New Orleans vibe in certain parts. I love Bobby Notkoff’s work on violin. There is a horn section in “I’m Rich” as well, a bluesy tune written by Geoff Muldaur. “I’m going to have gold-plated mushrooms/All the way from France/Get all them girls/To do a rich man’s dance.” Yeah, there is something playful about this song, which I love. And those horns are wonderful. “Let St. Peter know/I want top billing on that show.”

Maria sings lead on “Sweet Potatoes,” the album’s title track, accompanied only by Jeff Gutcheon on piano. Jeff Gutcheon also wrote this one. I love this song, in spite of its use of the “self”/“shelf” rhyme, which I never care for. Maria gives a wonderful vocal performance. That’s followed by the final of the original tunes, “Kneein’ Me,” written by Geoff Muldaur. This is a fun, energetic, somewhat goofy country tune with some surprising lyrics (“you pinched my tit, you dirty shit”). Geoff tells the story behind this one in the liner notes. I can’t help but completely enjoy this one, even with that odd mistake in the second half, where it seems part of the band thinks the song is ending. Then Maria sings lead on “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be),” and she delivers an absolutely excellent vocal performance here. This track is certainly one of the highlights, and features some nice work on guitar. As with the previous release, they end this one with a classic blues song. This time it’s “Hard Time Killin’ Floor.” And actually, this track was recorded during the sessions for Pottery Pie, and so features Billy Wolf on bass rather than John Kahn. “Hard times is here, everywhere you go/Times are harder than they’ve ever been before.”

CD Track List
  1. Blue Railroad Train
  2. Havana Moon
  3. Lazybones
  4. Cordelia
  5. Dardanella
  6. I’m Rich
  7. Sweet Potatoes
  8. Kneein’ Me
  9. Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)
  10. Hard Time Killin’ Floor
Sweet Potatoes was released on CD on March 30, 2018 through Omnivore Recordings.

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