Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tracy Nelson Superb Retrospective On Some Favorite Blues

The latest release, Victim of the Blues (Delta Groove) by Tracy Nelson serves to illustrate Etta James' appreciative description of Nelson as "… a bad white girl … ." Since her recordings with Mother Earth 40 years ago, Nelson has brought a deep soulful style to whatever she sings, whether blues, country or roots. More recently she has suffered a significant loss when the 100+ year old farmhouse she lived in near Nashville was destroyed by a fire. The firemen told her they could save one room of the house and her personal belongings, and she choose the studio where she recorded this new release.

The release is built around a number of vintage blues and soul performances that represented what she was listening to growing up in Wisconsin and being turned on this great music listening to WLAC out of Nashville. It is a return to her musical roots and what inspired her decades ago. And she realizes the contrast between this music and what is viewed as blues today. As part of a Chicago blues tour that played a variety of festivals she was struck that “The music I heard back in the day in Chicago and what I was hearing from the current crop of blues acts bore little relation to each other.” This led to the recording of the present album.

She is supported by a fine band on this including Jim Pugh on keyboards, guitarist Mike Henderson, bassist Byron House, and drummer John Gardner, with Marcia Ball gusting on piano on one track and Angela Strelhi adding supporting vocals to another. The result is a wonderful collection of performances opening with a marvelous rendition of one of Howlin’ Wolf’s lesser known recordings
You’ll Be Mine, with Henderson’s guitar dazzling in its own way as Hubert Sumlin’s was on the original. The one relatively recent songs is Earl Thomas’
Lead a Horse to Water, with some wonderful Pops Staples’ flavored guitar by Henderson with Pugh’s electric piano part of the foundation. Marcia Ball adds some rollicking piano and a second vocal to a lazy Jimmy Reed shuffle Shoot My Baby, while Henderson adds some blistering slide, while another Reed number Its a Sin, slows down the groove for a soulfully sung lament.

There is one actual nod to a classic soul recording, Marcia’s revival of Joe Tex’s
The Love You Save, while on the title track, originally recoded in the 1920s by Ma Rainey, Nelson heartfully revives this blues from the “Mother of the Blues” against Henderson’s banjo and Pugh’s spare piano accompaniment. She delivers the vocal as naturally and soulfully with this backing as she does with a hard rocking Chicago blues styled accompaniment. There are also solid renditions of Wolf’s Howlin’ For My Darling, James Cotton’s One More MIle, and Joe Tex’s lesser known soul classic The Love You Save.

The performances of “
Victims of the Blues are inspired by the original recordings, but never come across as copies or imitations. It also is noteworthy that with the exception perhaps of Howlin’ For My Baby and Percy Mayfield’s “Stranger in My Own Hometown, the songs themselves will be new to most listeners. Not only Nelson, but also her band invests plenty of personality that allows her to salute some of the performers and songs that provided inspiration and a musical foundation for her. The result is this stunning recording.

A publicity firm handling this release provided me a download of this release that is being issued on April 19.

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