On her new album, Southland of the Heart (Telarc), Maria Muldaur turns up the heat on the swampy, sultry Americana she explored with 1996's Fanning the Flames--and you'll get no complaints from this corner. Muldaur remains a well-traveled musical vagabond and a wonderful tour guide. She traverses the territory from jazz to bluegrass, from southern gospel churches to Smoky Mountain shanties, and she seems as comfy on Tin Pan Alley as in a south-side Chicago blues club--her sinuous honey-vinegar voice is her open-ended ticket. That voice is one of the minor treasures of American popular music: anyone who stopped listening after her 70s hit "Midnight at the Oasis" has no idea of the range of textures Muldaur can achieve. She uses a convincing growl to offset sly sexuality, and balances reflective balladry with rawboned R & B. On the new album's title track, written by Bruce Cockburn, she sings, "When the sun comes up an enemy / And nothin' gives you shade," then, against a backdrop of sighing guitar and blowsy horns, wrings every ounce from the remaining lyrics, with throaty ardor here and a Dylan-esque twang there, to escape to the inner Eden the title depicts. On a drifty cruise called "Latersville," she makes indolence sound even more appealing than usual, and on a moody blues called "Think About You" and the traditional-style "Blues Gives a Lesson," she can get you twitching in places you might have forgotten about. Friday, 10 PM, Beale Street Blues Cafe, 1550 N. Rand, Palatine; 847-776-9850. Saturday, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Caroline Greyshock.