As usual, Muldaur doesn't play it safe, choosing material that is seldom covered, such as Irving Berlin's socio-political "The Freedom Train" and Duke Ellington's "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'." Lee was known for her sexy, icy cool vibe and sophisticated style. Muldaur has always exuded similar qualities but really turns up the heat on this material. Her eight-piece combo easily shifts from the smooth, big-band groove of "Waitin' for the Train to Come In" to the loungy, after-hours blues of "Black Coffee." Like a female Frank Sinatra, she extends words and plays with phrasing, communicating a restrained despair (as opposed to Billie Holiday-styled desperation) from a phrase like "feeling low as the ground."
Guest Dan Hicks adds his nonchalant swing to the upbeat Dixieland of "Winter Weather" and Muldaur's winking delivery on "Everything is Moving Too Fast" -- a song co-written by Lee -- prances with a classy but fiery boogie-woogie strut. Even when warming the temperature on "Fever," she glows but never explodes into flames. That bubbling-under restraint makes both Lee and Muldaur hotter than all the histrionic divas in a week of VH1 specials.
Maria Muldaur plays Blind Willie's Thurs., May 29.