To put the spotlight on the late great New Orleans vocalist and composer Blue Lu Barker deserves kudos. Singer Maria Muldaur gathered the right musicians to back her on a worthy tribute to Lu as well as her husband, guitarist/banjoist/vocalist/composer Danny Barker, whose tunes, once sung by Blue Lu, also appear on Don’t You Feel My Leg – The Naughty Bawdy Blues of Blue Lu Barker. Muldaur and the group, led by pianist and music director David Torkanowsky with drummer Herlin Riley, guitarist Chris Adkins and bassist Roland Guerin, plus a rotation of fine New Orleans horn players, also work on other classic tunes that were part of Blue Lu’s repertoire, like the well-done album opener, “Georgia Grind.”
Wisely, Muldaur doesn’t attempt to imitate Barker’s voice, which, with its softer, naïve young girl quality, was actually less “bawdy” than Muldaur’s vocals as heard on her interpretations of these songs.
Blue Lu’s pen was at work in writing her “Scat Skunk,” which was also recorded by bandleader Cab Calloway. Tork takes the intro on this rather traditionally presented number, which includes amusing background vocals by the ensemble that were also present on the 1939 original with Danny Barker’s Fly Cats.
Danny Barker had a penchant, it seems, to compose songs about certain dances (think his later tune, “Palm Court Strut”) that’s well represented here on the rockin’ “Now You’re Down in the Alley,” with all of the horns in for the fun. Muldaur bravely takes a few more, perhaps ill-advised, improvisational liberties with Blue Lu and Danny Barker’s original, “Don’t You Feel My Leg.” After all, it’s such a beloved classic.
Many of the tunes, such as Blue Lu’s hilarious “Nix on Those Lush Heads,” presented on Don’t You Feel My Leg could be considered somewhat lost in time. Muldaur and company bring them back with much love and another reason to revisit the originals.