For sheer versatility, it’s hard to beat Maria Muldaur as a song stylist, and on “Waitress in a Doughnut Shop,” she serves up a diverse smorgasbord of tasty musical delights that includes helpings of blues, jazz, rock, a bit of twang, some south of the Rio Grande flavor, and even an a cappella gospel number.
Released shortly after her self-titled album that included her biggest hit, “Midnight at the Oasis,” “Waitress in a Doughnut Shop” thoroughly showcases Muldaur’s clear, sweet voice with the superb backing of a mind-boggling roster of some of the best musicians of the day. A partial list of the luminaries who contributed their considerable instrumental and vocal chops includes: Paul Butterfield, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Lowell George, Jim Gordon, Dave Grisman, Dr. John, Plas Johnson, John Kahn, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Linda Ronstadt, and Doc and Merle Watson. Much of the credit for the artistic success of this album also belongs to Muldaur’s regular collaborators at the time, guitarist Amos Garrett and vocalist/arranger, Greg Prestopino, who was responsible for putting together some wonderful background harmony arrangements.
While Maria Muldaur might not have the most extensive vocal range, she more than makes up for it with an intuitive flair for interpreting her material with exceptional feeling and subtlety. On “Waitress in a Doughnut Shop,” she wails on the down home country stylings of “Honey Baby Blues,” and the New Orleans flavored numbers “If You Haven’t Any Hay” and Allen Toussaint’s “Brickyard Blues.” She warbles and trills in English and Spanish on “Gringo in Mexico,” and gets in your face with brass and sass on Leiber and Stoller’s rockin’ “I’m a Woman.” She also demonstrates that she can carry a torch song like nobody’s business on “Sweetheart” and “Squeeze Me;” mellow, jazzy tunes with beefy horn sections that evoke images of swanky, smoky 1940s nightclubs. In the same vein, she gets downright saucy with “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion,” cooing and purring her way through it with such playful sensuality that any straight male with a pulse will find it impossible to refrain from thinking impure thoughts while listening to her.
While Maria Muldaur hasn’t had a big hit for a long time, it hasn’t been because she’s been sitting at home twiddling her thumbs. In the years since “Waitress in a Doughnut Shop,” she’s put out numerous recordings encompassing a variety of genres, including children’s songs. She’s also been active on the stage, appearing in productions of “The Pirates of Penzance” and “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” On a personal note, I had the good fortune to catch her set at the renowned Mississippi Valley Blues Fest in Davenport, Iowa a few years ago and can testify that she’s still got it! If you’d like to know what she’s done and what she’s been up to lately, her web site (http://www.mariamuldaur.com) provides everything you need.