Mention Maria Muldaur and, inevitably, Midnight At The Oasis will be the song which comes to mind, it being a sizeable chart hit in 1972. However, as this fine article on the Americana UK website makes clear, Ms. Muldaur had already carved a reputation prior to this and has gone on to release several albums which tend to root around blues and jazz, the old timey sort. And old timey is perhaps the best way to describe Let’s Get Happy Together which Muldaur recorded with a New Orleans troupe, Tuba Skinny, who specialise in blues, jazz and jug band renditions of songs from yesteryear.
Muldaur had been enamoured of Tuba Skinny having heard some of their albums, and when both were scheduled to appear at International Folk Alliance in New Orleans in 2020, they teamed up to perform together. It went so well that it was decided to record an album and Muldaur spent some time researching vintage songs to bring to the studio. It has to be said that the twelve she selected are just about perfect for the project (she offers details of the provenance of each selection in the liner notes – hinting that one should seek out the originals) and the result is a delightful listen for anyone interested in old time jazz, blues, string band and swing.
Tuba Skinny are an eight piece band who resemble a small 1920’s or 30’s ensemble (coronet, tuba, trombone, clarinet, banjo, guitar and washboard) and they deliver the sounds from that era effortlessly with, as Muldaur notes, “a relaxed, natural, organic groove.” It’s worthwhile saying that they also swing. Muldaur meanwhile has always excelled when singing these type of songs and although there is a fine patina settling in these days she remains in grand voice and totally commands these songs.
As for the songs, unless you are an obsessive devourer of old time music, they are unfamiliar. Muldaur has done her research well and chosen some gems. The opening I LIke You Best Of All (recorded by the Goofus Five) showcases the syncopation and slippery rythyms of the band while the lyrics are in that ribald area of “jelly roll” mentions and such. The title song was written by Louis Armstrong’s first wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong and Be Your Natural Self comes from an artist called Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon who, according to the notes, sometimes performed as a man and sometimes as a woman, with Muldaur calling him/her, one of the first gender benders.
Irving Berlin is the best-known writer covered here with his I Ain’t Got Rhythm delivered with a nod to Billie Holiday’s 1930’s version but it’s a song by Alexander Hill, Delta Bound, originally recorded by Ivy Anderson and the Duke Ellington Band which takes the honours here. It’s a delightful slow vamp which positively oozes with a southern sensuality.