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February 8, 2008

Geoff Muldaur - Sleepy Man Blues

"There are only three white blues singers -- Geoff Muldaur is at least two of them." -- Richard Thompson

Well, pretty much everything I said about Dave Van Ronk applies to Geoff Muldaur. Both have deep roots in blues and early jazz, both sing and play guitar with authority, and both are excellent arrangers who never take things too fast. Geoff has an even better voice than Van Ronk, falling somewhere between Bukka White and Lonnie Johnson. And, like Van Ronk, he is a musical eclectic who has made folk, blues, jazz, & rock albums. Though not as great a guitarist as DVR, he is a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, clarinet, washboard...) whose playing is always spot-on.

But I mean, he's a really fantastic singer. Really. He can sound both ebullient and resigned in a breath. All of twenty-something years old when he made this album, he sings with the authority of a man at the other end of life. Fifty years unfold in a phrase. In fact, the word 'sing' can't even describe it. It's like a moan but with more force, like a shout but with more subtlety. A deep and boomy warbling trill that knocks you down as much as it pulls you in. Geoff Muldaur belts the blues like few white people ever have (Jo-Ann Kelly being the only exception that comes to mind). He manages to sound fully vital and world-weary at the same time.

Sleepy Man Blues is Geoff's first album, and he sticks to the classics (well, old &
obscurites country blues classics...). Backed by Fritz Richmond on washtub bass and Eric Von Schmidt on mandolin & harmonica (& with Bill Keogh on piano and Dave Van Ronk on guitar for a couple cuts), most of the cuts sound straight out of the Sleepy John Estes/Yank Rachell/Hammie Nixon blues-jug band mold. While this is certainly a traditionalist/revivalist album, the quality of Geoff's singing makes it one of the brightest examples of that genre.

And if you have any doubt as to the right of a white kid in his early 20's to sing the blues, consider that by the time he made this album, he had already hitchhiked across the south with a broom in hand, trying to get to Texas to sweep off
Blind Lemon Jefferson's grave. That, my friends, is what they call street-cred.

While he would go on to make great albums with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Maria Muldaur, Paul Butterfield, Amos Garret and others, there is a rawness to this early work that disappeared as he got more sophisticated with his arrangements and heterogeneus in his style. As far as I know, it has never been re-released except as a japanese import. In recent years he has returned some to this kind of stripped-down music (without abandoning his diverse & eclectic style) and made some good albums. If you like this album, check out some of them & support him so that he'll be able to make more and tour, rather than writing horn charts, film scores & commercial jingles for a living.

Geoff Muldaur - Sleepy Man Blues
Year: 1963
Label: Prestige

here it is
MR - straight from vinyl | mp3 192+kbps vbr | with cover | 69mb

Check out his website for more info on him, discography, & tour dates.


Joski said...


this is a great record
I love it


jb said...

Been looking for this for years. Geoff Muldaur is one of a kind and, as you implied, these recordings, along with his work with Kweskin, are his best work. Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

Much appreciated, Wrathman! I had this long ago but it burned in a house fire (ouch!)in the late 70s. Hard to find and still sounds great. People, please buy Muldaur's more recent recordings--PASSWORD, SECRET HANDSHAKE, BEAUTIFUL ISLE OF SOMEWHERE. While a but more polished than this, they sound terrific as well, and his voice has become even more golden. The man has definitely "kept the faith". - Marco