Clare Muldaur is all about contrasts.

Growing up in Martha’s Vineyard, she admits to being a “total barn rat, a horse girl” but her blues musician father (Geoff Muldaur of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band), nurtured in her a love of music that was heavily steeped in the sounds of Sam Cooke, Mildred Bailey, Bessie Smith, and “all the greats of the 20s and 30s.” A competitive horseback rider through her youth, Muldaur would go on to study jazz at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she met her husband and bandmate, Olivier Manchon.

Now, with the release of her debut CD (as Clare and the Reasons), Muldaur’s jazz pedigree and luminous soprano is on full display. A sublime heart-warmer that lingers on your lips, in your head and in the air, The Movie harkens back to a time when families gathered round the radio instead of their televisions, and Fred Astaire was king. She even resembles actress Myrna Loy, which she has been told on occasion.

“Everything’s derivative of something, and there’s some music where you feel it’s an imitation. So we of course try to stay away from that. I think I’ve just been very moved and influenced by pre-1950s America, so I hope that comes across. We’re like detectives! Like film noir detectives who are clumsy and not good at their jobs! That’s what we’re going for.”

The Reasons, Muldaur’s band, is also highly pedigreed, where most of the players have a jazz background. In addition to Manchon, who nimbly tackles violin and piano, there is Beth Myers on viola, Christopher Hoffman on cello, Greg Ritchie on drums, Bob Hart on guitar and Alan Hampton on bass. The live set-up of Clare and the Reasons can add up to 10, however.

“What you hear on the record is pretty much what you hear live, but it’s a little bit fatter on the record. We were doing 75% of the material in the months leading up to recording, live, so we honed the sound and the arrangements, before we did the record. That was an important thing for me; that we are able to do live what you hear on the record. I think I will always work that way.”

Their secret agent derring-do would come in handy when attempting to lock down a satisfactory contract with a record label that would fully support a band like Clare and the Reasons in a predominately hip-hop or arena rock-loving industry.

“The year before we made this record, we were playing a lot in New York, and there were all these labels coming out, mostly major labels. They’d come many times in a row, and be so excited about it, but nothing ever went anywhere. I started to realize these people are scared to sign us because we’re different. And if they sign us, and it doesn’t go well, then they lose their jobs. Basically, it’s this business of fear.”

An investor would later approach the band about starting a label, and so Frog Stand Records was born, which now houses Clare and the Reasons, and Manchon’s band, Orchestre de Chambre Miniature.

“I feel really proud of it, and it was absolutely the right route for us to go. I hope we can do several branches of the label. We do film and TV stuff and we just did the music for a French documentary that is playing all over Europe. It feels good, it feels right and yes, it’s risky, but it’s not more risky than handing your career over to somebody else who might chicken out. I like to keep it risky.”

Recorded at Legacy Studios in Manhattan, and boasting such impressive talent as famed composter/arranger/producer extraordinaire Van Dyke Parks, Sufjan Stevens and harmonica superstar Gregoire Maret, The Movie, in all its timeless beauty, stands in stark contrast to the landscape from which it was born, although the shimmering “Alphabet City” paints a prettier picture.

“I feel like I have a romantic relationship with New York. It teaches you the hard way of everything, and it can also be really lonely. In the winter you get locked up inside… and there’s just something artistically that comes out of that, the desperation and loneliness and semi-abuse the city does to people because it’s really hard! It’s really hard to survive here. You have to really want to live here.”

A self-described “busy romantic,” Muldaur loves the “little things,” and doesn’t believe in Valentine’s Day. “I also like everything that contrasts beauty, and romance, too. It’s not all wine and roses at all. I like contrasts, and I like dissonance in music. If things were only peaceful, it wouldn’t be at all representative of the world.”

“Cook for You,” one of the standout tunes on The Movie, would, on the surface, appear to be a simple ode to domestic bliss, but the true story is revealed near the end of the song.

“In the second to last verses, it explains that the character is actually singing to, or cooking for the person that they love who has died. They’re still cooking for the person, and they’re still brushing their teeth and talking to the person, but the person’s dead. It’s dark, but it’s romantic. I like the contrast.”

Recently featured on NPR, where she spoke on “Pluto,” the lead-in track on the album that delightfully encourages and supports the demoted planet, Muldaur is very satisfied with The Movie, although she concedes that an artist’s work is never done.

“I feel really good about the record because I feel there’s a common thread through out it, creatively, and that was my number one goal. It’s like this record is this, and that record is that. I think it’s easy to fall into doing too many things, too many styles on a record. I think when you put on a record, you want to hear that record for a particular reason.”

–Carrie Alison, lead photo by Carrie Alison, all following photos by Justin Lane

  1. We’re a gaggle of volunteers and beginning a new initiative in a community. Your weblog provided us beneficial information to work on. You could have executed a marvellous job!