Maria Muldaur Singer Maria Muldaur has never been one to conceal her influences, so it wasn't surprising to find her saluting Memphis Minnie, Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt and Percy Mayfield at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis on Sunday night. If Muldaur had a point to make with her mostly sultry and sometimes tambourine-jangling interpretations, it was simply that some tunes bear repeating.
It took a while for Muldaur's voice to shed a raspy edge and project its sensuous trademark tone. But as the concert unfolded, her delivery became warmer and more expressive.
There were also moments, especially during a fervent reprise of Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love," when Muldaur arched her back and belted out a lyric as if she were testifying before a church congregation.
Mostly, though, she and her three-piece Red Hot Bluesiana Band settled into relaxed Southern grooves, with guitarist Mike Schermer leading the way. Schermer preserved the jaunty, finger-picked charm associated with Hurt's "Richland Woman Blues," a song that's been in Muldaur's repertoire since her days with Jim Kweskin's Jug Band in the '60s. More often, though, the guitarist used a flat pick to conjure R&B moods that frequently pointed to Louisiana for inspiration. Not all the tunes were vintage blues pieces; a well-matched pair of J.J. Cale songs made the cut as well. And before calling it a night, Muldaur obliged fans with a faithful rendition of "Midnight at the Oasis" and a playfully choreographed version of "Don't You Feel My Leg."
-- Mike Joyce Television at 9:30 When Television visited Washington on its first reunion tour in 1993, the New York quartet picked up where it had stopped in 1978. The band, arguably the best of the original CBGB's acts, played a dazzlingly assured show: stately yet robust, fierce yet lyrical. There didn't seem to be anything missing.
Now in the midst of its ongoing second reunion, Television came to the 9:30 club Monday to demonstrate what it had lacked a decade ago: the insouciance of its early days. Though the band performed material from all three of its studio albums, the emphasis was on its first and most consistent one, "Marquee Moon." Songs such as "See No Evil" and "Prove It" were supplemented by new tunes and some of the group's older songs. Singer-guitarist Tom Verlaine led the band into the past for "Little Johnny Jewel," which Television dropped from its sets soon after it was released as its first single; it also performed a tempo-shifting version of the Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction," another staple of the band's embryonic phase.
The set's looseness allowed for some doldrums, notably during the spacey intro and a meandering spoken-word piece. But the group was precise when it wanted to be, with Verlaine and fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd tightly interlocking their trademark cascading riffs.
The peaks of the nearly two-hour set were thrilling, yet perhaps the music's most remarkable attribute was its playfulness. With the musicians now in their fifties, Television has become a punk band again.
-- Mark Jenkins Lila Downs The striking Lila Downs did a folkloric two-step onto the Eisenhower Theater stage Monday night, her long braids flapping to the thumping beat. The 33-year-old singer appeared in Julie Taymor's recent biopic about Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and "Burn It Blue," her soundtrack duet with Caetano Veloso, was nominated for an Oscar.
In fact, the Mexican American singer, with her intricately woven outfit, bore an uncanny resemblance to the Mexican German artist.
She took the enthusiastic Kennedy Center audience on a tour of her personal geography, from the mountains of Oaxaca, where she was born, to the University of Minnesota, where she studied anthropology. During the two-hour set she told Zapotec folk tales in perfect English, and translated them into perfect Spanish. Her dense contralto conjured the melancholy of Mexican rancheras, while her lighter upper register conveyed the playfulness of Saturday night cumbias.
She was accompanied by an energetic quintet, which imbued traditional rhythms with unusual, but not unwelcome, elements: "Viborita" morphed into an extended Afro-beat jam, while the naughty nursery rhyme "La Cucaracha" got a Middle Eastern feel from Paul Cohen's serpentine sax.
The evening's only misstep was an interpolation of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," whose arrangement crumbled into world-music mush.
And though original headliner Chavela Vargas (the grand dame of the Mexican cancion) didn't make it to the show, Downs ensured that her spirit was present, through a luminous, mournful performance of the Vargas hit "Paloma Negra."
For her encore, Downs sang the border-crossing ditty "El Bracero Fracasado," whose protagonist gets caught by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Thankfully, Lila Downs can cross the border any time she wants -- she's got dual citizenship.
-- Elizabeth Mendez Berry