Maria Muldaur with Tuba Skinny – Let’s Get Happy Together
Stony Plain Records – 2021
12 tracks; 40:09
Old-fashioned is a relative term. What’s contemporary to older people sounds out-of-date to younger ones. Singer Maria Muldaur pulls the old-fashioned thread hard on Let’s Get Happy Together, an album of Dixieland jazz made with Tuba Skinny, the New Orleans street band.
Muldaur and Tuba Skinny are taking on music from the 1920s and 30s, which is old, but Muldaur’s roots-oriented prior work was also based on older sounds. So while it’s not surprising to see Muldaur looking back, it’s interesting that she’s staying for so long, and in such a committed way, to a single time period so far back. Of course, Tuba Skinny’s instrumentation is made for this kind of sound, with horns, clarinet, banjo, washboard, and the tuba promised in the band name.
Muldaur seems to be having a great time with her vocals, using a jazzy cadence rather than her usual bluesy country sound. Her voice, coupled with Tuba Skinny, makes Let’s Get Happy Together sound like an album that could have been recorded 100 years ago (although the production is much sharper than that). And if there are tells that this is a contemporary album, then it at least sounds like something you’d hear in a Woody Allen movie, a lesser certificate of musical authenticity.
The tracks are all covers, which allows everyone to focus on performances. It means that the album takes you back, back before most of us were born. It’s because even if you’re not familiar with early New Orleans jazz, most people have heard it, through films and television, and understand, on some level, the era it evokes. So Muldaur and Tuba Skinny are taking listeners back to a time none of us actually experienced, which is the beauty of music in general, and tight genres, specifically.
The title track doesn’t rock, so much as it trundles, horns and clarinets exploding out of tuba-induced low-end, like a car stuck in mud finally grabbing enough ground to explode out onto the road. “He Ain’t Got Rhythm” is a swinging Irving Berlin tune anchored by banjo strums and tuba, but with Muldaur’s rhythmic vocals also helping to reinforce the groove, allowing horns and clarinet to soar around the song.
Muldaur’s tackled this kind of music before. For example, she covered Louis Armstrong’s “Georgia Grind” on the blues-oriented Don’t You Feel My Leg (The Naughty Bawdy Blues of Blue Lu Barker), which had a fair share of horns. But working with Tuba Skinny allows her to nail the sound of the period, and while it’s not post-war blues, roots, or country, it’s a talented singer working with a cohesive band on solid songs.