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Tracy Nelson from the album Life Don’t Miss Nobody available on BMG (By Lee Zimmerman)
The legendary Etta James once described Tracy Nelson as ‘a bad white girl’, a suitable description considering the fact that Nelson’s proven her prowess over the course of a career that spans well over half a century. She first came to prominence at the helm of the Countrified Folk Rock band Mother Earth in the mid ‘60s, part of an emerging San Francisco underground that also included Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Janis Joplin (solo). But where those bands pushed the boundaries by taking an insurgent stance tinged with heavy doses of Psychedelia, Mother Earth — as their handle suggested — shared more homespun sentiment within a timeless tableau.
Despite having established her presence those many decades ago, Tracy Nelson’s been absent of late, having taken a hiatus from recording that’s lasted over ten years. Happily, then, Life Don’t Miss Nobody proves less than prophetic than its title implies, while also affirming the fact that Nelson’s lost none of her verve and vitality in the intervening years. To her credit, she enlists a prominent number of fellow travelers — a group of iconic individuals that include Willie Nelson (no relation), Charlie Musselwhite, Irma Thomas, Marcia Ball, Jontavious Willis, Mickey Raphael, and Terry Hanck. The supporting crew is equally impressive, consisting of Kevin McKendree (Delbert McClinton, Brian Setzer) and Steve Conn (Bonnie Raitt, Sonny Landreth) on piano, Byron House (Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) on bass, John Gardner (Dixie Chicks, Taylor Swift) on drums, Larry Chaney (Edwin McCain) and Mike Henderson (SteelDrivers, Chris Stapleton) on guitars, as well as horns and harmony singers to boot.
Happily, then, the song selection does credit to the casting, a collection of bonfire classics that include compositions by Hank Williams, Ma Rainey, Willie Dixon, Allen Toussaint, Chuck Berry, Doc Pomus, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Stephen Foster. Foster’s “Hard Times” is included twice, both featuring Tracy Nelson playing 12-string guitar. Notably, it marks the first time she’s recorded on guitar since her 1964 Prestige Records debut, Deep are the Roots.
Tracy Nelson’s own roots are clearly evident here, given sounds that delve deeply into Blues, Gospel, Country, and R&B are all plied so seamlessly, the boundaries are often broken within the context of a single song. She pours her heart into each selection, from the ache and yearning of “Where Do You Go (When You Can’t Go Home)” and the beautiful balladry of “There Is Always One More Time”, to the upbeat shuffle that propels Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”, the forthright stride taken on the Jazz standard “Compared to What”, and her assertive stance on Hank Williams’ hillbilly hoedown, “Honky Tonkin’”.
Amazingly, her voice is as vibrant and expressive as ever. Her striking and suggestive vocals on the title track, the album’s sole original composition, are sultry as ever and yet piqued with caution and concern ('the world has a way of taking back its toys’). At the same time, she’s perfectly at home basking in the Blues, as the rollicking “Your Funeral and My Trial” and the straightforward “Strange Things Happening Every Day” clearly confirm.
To call this a comeback simply doesn’t do it justice. Suffice it to say, Tracy Nelson’s status as an American master is readily reinforced. (by Lee Zimmerman)
Listen and buy the music of Tracy Nelson from AMAZON
For more information, please visit the Tracy Nelson website
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