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Maria Muldaur: A Woman Alone With the Blues

It’s been well over a year since Peggy Lee’s passing, but the tributes continue to pour in. Most intriguingly unexpected among them is A Woman Alone With the Blues: Remembering Peggy Lee (Telarc), a 12-track salute from Maria Muldaur. The last time Muldaur crossed my radar screen, it was 1974 and she was sending her camel to bed with “Midnight at the Oasis.” Since then, she’s shaped herself into an impressively smoky chanteuse, and her voice has grown both deeper and mellower. That patina of outlandish bohemianism is gone, but her ethereal wispiness remains.

Muldaur’s thoughtful song selection provides a well-balanced appreciation for Lee’s incarnations as big-band canary, mid-’50s firecracker and sultry supper club singer. Her “Fever” matches the itchy sensuality of Lee’s original, and the soft folds of her “Moments Like This” are appropriately suggestive. Teaming with Dan Hicks on “Winter Weather,” Muldaur chooses a steamy New Orleans-style setting. The oddly dynamic results sound something akin to “Struttin’ With Some Icicles.” She also offers up a slinky, eight-minute “Some Cats Know” that adds a welcome dash of Kander and Ebb pizzazz to Leiber and Stoller’s sly gem. On “Waitin’ for the Train to Come In,” dripping with libidinous anticipation, she demonstrates that what seemed like a throwaway trifle at the time is actually one of Lee’s most robustly sexual outings. Best of all, though, is a tiny yet tremendously welcome lyrical adjustment in “Black Coffee.” Simply by transposing two words-changing “A woman was born to weep and fret” to “Was a woman born to weep and fret?”-Muldaur replaces Lee’s inky despondency with a worldly-wise wistfulness, shifting the song’s narrator from helpless victim to savvy survivor.

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