Maria Muldaur
Southland of the Heart
Telarc 83423
Southland of the Heart is at its best when producer Dennis Walker uses a light touch. Maria Muldaur's vocals seem oh-so-slightly thinner and less potent than in past outings. However, one has to listen closely to notice, thanks to the spacious, lighter-than-air arrangements that characterize seven of the 11 tunes.

As a result, it's a thoroughly convincing outing, less blues-based than some of Muldaur's prior recordings and certainly better for it. The arrangements give Muldaur ample breathing room, figuratively speaking, and set a breezy, carefree mood. Best cuts include "Get Up, Get Ready," which features a keyboard-driven swing groove accentuated by a righteous gospel-styled vocal trio; the smoldering strut of "Latersville"; the gospel-tinged "One Short Life"; and Dave Mackenzie's cautionary blues tale, "Blues Gives a Lesson."

It's not a perfect outing: "There's a Devil on the Loose" is a topical-but-generic plea against inner-city violence that is no doubt sincere but doesn't quite work, while the opening track, "Ring Me Up," tries too hard to be bouncy and accessible. Still, the overall atmosphere of the recording wins out. Telarc's pristine 20-bit digital recording doesn't hurt a bit, either, particularly on a session that includes keyboards, acoustic guitars, horns and a variety of percussion flourishes.

-- Bryan Powell

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Boulder, CO, USA.