Best-known for her seductive '70s pop hit, "Midnight at the Oasis," Maria Muldaur in more recent years has become an acclaimed interpreter of American roots music from blues and early jazz to gospel, folk and R&B.
Her latest album, "Maria Muldaur & Her Garden Of Joy," was just nominated for a Grammy. Guest artists assisting include Taj Mahal, John Sebastian, David Grisman and Dan Hicks, who contributes two songs and two duets.
"Garden Of Joy" finds Muldaur returning to her jug band roots.
"I was riding around one day listening to a blues station on satellite radio and I got really nostalgic for this really fun music that I used to love to play," she says. "So I called up two members from the Even Dozen Jug Band, John Sebastian and David Grisman, and they loved the idea."
And so did reviewers. "Muldaur sounds positively energized by this return to her roots and delivers one of the best vocal performances in her long and storied career," praised BluesSource. "Muldaur is our national treasure and she helps to keep us young," noted BluesWax.
Subtitled "Good Time Music for Hard Times," the album mixes vintage, Depression-era songs along with some jaunty new tunes to help uplift our spirits in these challenging times. One of the topical songs, "Bank Failure Blues," was composed in the late 1920s.
The "Big Fun at The Oasis" island tour, featuring Maria Muldaur, Dan Hicks and Hot Tuna's Jorma Kaukonen, lands at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater on Friday. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $45, $50 and $55 plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
"It was written by Martha Copeland in 1929," she explains. "It's a true story about her saving her money all her life, working cleaning people's houses, only to go to the bank and find it's all gone. I felt this could be more relevant right now. I recorded another one, 'Dog-gone The Panic is On,' and that has a similar theme. The rest of the songs are very whacky and high spirited.
"Jug band music came out of the early '20s when everyone was living close to the bone. People couldn't afford upright basses and drum kits, so they used a washtub and blew into a jug for the bass sound, and used a washboard with thimbles and banged on pots and pans for drums. It was organic, homegrown music."
Born and raised in New York's Greenwich Village, Muldaur explored American roots music from an early age. She first performed with the Even Dozen Jug Band, and then joined Jim Kweskin & His Jug Band. Her first solo album, "Maria Muldaur," released in 1973, featured the hit single "Midnight at the Oasis." In later years she recorded acclaimed jazz, blues, gospel and swing albums.
Two years ago, Muldaur released "Yes We Can!," a powerful album of protest and peace anthems. Backed by the funky Free Radicals band (including Maui's "Hutch" Hutchinson), she brilliantly recasts some classic songs like Dylan's "Masters of War," Edwin Starr's "War (What Is It Good For)" and Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues," aided by the Women's Voices for Peace Choir, which includes Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Phoebe Snow, Odetta, Holly Near, Jane Fonda, inspirational author Marianne Williamson and Jungian analyst Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen.
"By the fall of 2007, I had done about 35 albums and what was most on my mind was the deplorable state of the world," she explains. "It weighed heavy on my heart and I'm thinking, does this mean I should make a protest album? But I hated protest music, with the exception of Dylan. Then I thought I'll make a pro-peace album. I started thinking about all these great songs from the late '60s and early '70s that soul artists put out. It was protest music you could dance to, addressing all kinds of serious, righteous causes. It was funk protest music and that was my basis for doing it. So that's how a naughty, bawdy, blues singer ended up making a pro-peace album."
Highlights include a sizzling, super funky updating of Allen Toussaint's "Yes We Can" (popularized by the Pointer Sisters in 1973), which features a dynamic duet with Bonnie Raitt.
And she closes the album with an inspiring piece, "Everyone in the World," by Indian spiritual teacher Amma.
"Bonnie and I went together to see her," she says. "I spoke through an interpreter and the whole time she's hugging and blessing people, because a woman saint has to be multitasking in every minute. We took her recording of 'Everyone in the World,' and I recorded myself, Joan Baez and Holly Near over it. I had never done anything like that before. It was very moving."
Heading to Maui to play on a bill with Dan Hicks, Muldaur recalls how back in the early 1970s, she contacted him wondering if there might be a vacancy for a new female member in his group.
"I've loved his music since I heard his first album," she says. "I wrote a fan letter and told him how much I loved his music, and if one of the Hot Licks ever got sick, pregnant or arrested, I offered my services. I didn't think he knew who I was, but when I met him, he said he'd been a big fan of mine from the Jug Band days.
"We have an affinity for jug band music; we both love early swing music and jazz. We've put together a killer band that we're calling the San Francisco Jazz All-Stars. We had a big success playing together in Japan and we decided to do more gigs as a dynamic duo. We're excited to be coming to the islands."
"When I was learning to play guitar, I was fan of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, they were an inspiration," Dan Hicks reports. "Maria and I have done a few things together. Her band will back me up, and we'll do a few duets."
With more than 30 years in the music business, Hicks finally got around to stamping his own unique sound on an album of holiday music last year. The legendary leader of the Hot Licks, a swinging band with a cult following spawned in the 1970s, recently released "Crazy for Christmas," an irresistible collection of revamped favorites and fun originals propelled by exuberant, swing jazz band instrumentation.
"I've played Christmas songs for gigs around this time, and I'm in a novelty jug band that does Christmas tunes, so I finally decided to do something under my own name," Hicks says. "It's had good reception."
Humorous lyrical gems include the opening toe-tapper, "Christmas Mornin,' " which finds Mr. Claus scrambling at the North Pole to get Rudolph to down his beer and the elves to quit their dice game so they can get "trucking with the toys."
"I like parodies and takeoffs and to keep it light, and have a little attitude going," he continues.
Accompanied on the album by the Hot Licks, he's also joined by the Lickettes backup singers, who provide perfect harmony, counter melody and occasional kazoo.
"There was a time when I swore kazoos would never be on my stage, but these girls do a kind of kazoo duet thing with harmonies, so it's kind of cool," he notes.
In the late 1960s, Hicks first assembled an acoustic combo with two female backup singers and began performing as Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, perfecting a crowd-pleasing musical style that embraced western swing, country and jazz, with a comedic flourish.
"My parents liked country music and I started liking jazz in junior high school and put the two together," he explains. "Rather than growing up on rock, I liked the other stuff. And humor comes easy for me; I like to be entertaining."
Before forming the Hot Licks, Hicks played drums with one of the West Coast's neo-psychedelic pioneers, The Charlatans, based at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nev.
"The band started playing in San Francisco and our first real job was in Virginia City, an old mining town. It was the summer of '65 and Ken Kesey's bus came through. It was a real scene. The poster for the gig was the first one for underground, long-haired bands.
"When I quit The Charlatans, more than being in a rock band, I was drawn to quieter, more folk-orientated music. And I was inspired to write original tunes. I was a little different from most San Francisco acts."
Hicks and The Hot Licks produced a series of critically acclaimed albums like "Where's The Money?," "Striking It Rich" and "Last Train To Hicksville."
Decades later he began recording again with The Hot Licks, beginning in 2000 with "Beatin' the Heat," which featured a bunch of guest artists including Elvis Costello, Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Waits and Bette Midler.
" 'Beatin' the Heat' is a glorious, superbly crafted return, and arguably the best album in Dan Hicks' catalogue," raved an Allmusic review.
Then came "Selected Shorts," in 2004, with contributions by Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson and Van Dyke Parks.
"I got the Hot Licks going again with the girl singers, and I hadn't really done anything with other people before," he says. "I thought about people who might be compatible, and I think there was a mutual fan thing going on."
In 2008, Hicks released the critically acclaimed "Tangled Tales."
"His latest is one of his best, blending that western swing/Django/jazz/blues/roots/hippie eclecticism with all the expected sardonic lyrics, all drawled in style," praised the LA Weekly.
Island legends Cecilio & Kapono will team for the first time with the Maui Pops Orchestra on Saturday in the MACC's Castle Theater.
"We're excited, it's a luxury to have an orchestra with us," enthuses Henry Kapono. "We want to do something that's dynamic and takes it to whole 'nother level. People are used to us as a duo and with a band, and the orchestra adds something extra special."
After 38 years, Hawaii's most famous duo still captivates with classics such as "Friends," "Lifetime Party," "Sailin,' " "Highway in the Sun" and "Night Music."
"It's amazing that people still love them. We're really fortunate," he says.
Last year they released their first new studio recording in 20 years, "C&K," an eight-song album that captures their distinctive vocal blending and sunny sound.
Kapono is currently recording songs for a new solo CD. "It's a new album of originals, probably the best stuff I've ever written," he reports. "We're looking at a May release."
* Cecilio & Kapono perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the MACC's Castle Theater. Tickets are $55, $45, $35 and $12 plus applicable fees, available as above.
Stella Blues Supper Club will feature Paula Fuga with guitarist Mike Love and percussionist Sam Ites on Friday evening. Four-course dinner and show for $60; show-only is $30. And Hapa's Barry Flanagan and Eric Gilliom return on Jan. 21 and 22.