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Yes We Can!

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Album Review

There are a number of arguments to be made for and against Maria Muldaur's 2008 antiwar statement Yes We Can! on Telarc (before actually listening to it; remember, we live in a cynical culture). The "perceived" negatives all relate to the intent of the recording and who it's supposed to reach (no doubt an expression of the same set of beliefs rooted in Muldaur's 1960s music), and the fact that it's loaded with guests (in all fairness, these star-studded affairs seldom work). On Yes We Can!, her guests include Muldaur's old friends (Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, Phoebe Snow, Jane Fonda, and Holly Near) and influences (Odetta) and new pals (writers/spiritual gurus Anne Lamott and Marianne Williamson, and Indian spiritual teacher Amma). Does it read as if it is yet another exercise in self-referential backslapping? Yep. But don't believe everything you read on the back of a CD jacket. The positives are all musical. First off, Muldaur hasn't sounded this funky in years — if ever! The set was co-produced by Muldaur and Joel Jaffe. The sound is, for the most part, dirty, raw, and angular, ranging from deep Southern blues to Cajun, gospel, rhythm & blues, and soul — no matter where the songs come from originally. Her great influence, Memphis Minnie, would have been proud of Muldaur's use of the Southern inflection that sounds unaffected even though she was born in New York. Credit for the sonics falls equally with the production and arrangements (handled heroically by David Torkanowsky) and the musicianship (the Free Radicals and the Women's Voices for Peace Choir). The track selection is killer to boot: Edwin Starr's "War (What Is It Good For)," Allen Toussaint's title track, Bob Dylan's "License to Kill" and "Masters of War," Garth Brooks' beautiful "We Shall Be Free" (with deeply moving solo spots from her guests), Elbernita Terrell's (from Detroit's wonderful gospel group the Clark Sisters) "Pray for the USA," and the traditional "Down by the Riverside." Of the two Dylan tracks, "License to Kill" rivals the original. Muldaur understates the lyric, bringing out its nuances and the hidden power in the melody. Muldaur's reading of Timmy Thomas' "Why Can't We Live Together" drips with sincerity and is delivered with expert control — she's a true craftswoman as a vocalist, always resisting the temptation to over-sing. That said, Muldaur may have lost her "good girl gone bad" seductiveness of the early '70s, but what she replaces it with is far more sultry because there isn't anything here but the desire to communicate the emotional intention of these songs in her husky, deeply soulful voice. Old hippies may be drawn to this set for its guests and track list, but any fan of bona fide, honestly performed, deeply emotional American music will be knocked out by it as well.

Biography

Born: 12 September 1943 in Greenwich Village, New York, NY

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Best known for her seductive '70s pop staple "Midnight at the Oasis," Maria Muldaur has since become an acclaimed interpreter of just about every stripe of American roots music: blues, early jazz, gospel, folk, country, R&B, and so on. While these influences were certainly present on her more pop-oriented '70s recordings (as befitting her Greenwich Village folkie past), Muldaur came into her own as a true roots music stylist during the '90s, when she developed a particular fascination with the myriad...
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Yes We Can!, Maria Muldaur
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