Tracy Nelson – Victim Of The Blues – Delta Groove Music DGPCD143, 40:41 *****:
(Tracy Nelson – vocals; Mike Henderson – guitar, banjolin; Byron House – bass; John Gardner – drums; Jimmy Pugh – piano, B3; Marcia Ball – piano, vocals; George Bradfute – guitar; Angela Strehli – vocals; Vicki Carrico, Reba Russell, John Cowan, Terry Tucker, James “Nick” Nixon – backup vocals)
In the latter half of the 1960s Mother Earth (inspired by a Memphis Slim song) was a staple on the burgeoning San Francisco music scene. Fueled by the explosive, gritty vocals of Tracy Nelson, the band earned the reputation as a bonafide blues outfit. Their first album featuring Nelson’s composition “Down So Low” (also recorded by Linda Ronstadt and Etta James) established the singer as a force of nature. Her soulful vocals conveyed the deep emotion associated with this American idiom.
A native of Wisconsin, Nelson migrated to the thriving Chicago blues scene in the early sixties. Her debut on Prestige Records featured Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica and she learned from Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Otis Spann. After relocating to San Francisco, Mother Earth became a perennial favorite at The Fillmore, sharing the stage with Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix. Her versatility prompted a crossover into country music with comparable success, recording a Grammy-nominated song with Willie Nelson. She has continued to release blues and country projects for different labels.
Victim Of The Blues is Nelson’s twenty-sixth album in a career that has spanned five decades. Clearly, she has decided to pay homage to seminal blues influences. The selection of material reflects an iconic collection of music pioneers. The genesis of the album comes from a road trip where Nelson heard an Otis Spann song and decided to initiate a “roots” project. The connection to the blues existence was reaffirmed by the unfortunate fire at her home that required a local fire department to rescue the studio. The first track (Willie Dixon’s “You’ll Be Mine”) is a rocking groove-infected jam powered by a veteran ensemble. However, the vitality is infused by the powerful voice. She is able to inject her personality into a song covered by Howlin’ Wolf. The band delivers a roadhouse version of Jimmy Reed’s “Shoot My Baby”. Marcia Ball helps out with a barrelhouse piano and a vocal duet. The title cut is a tribute to one of Nelson’s heroes, Ma Rainey (whose photograph is in the note booklet). Mike Henderson’s banjolin is a perfect complement to the sorrowful angst of Nelson’s lead vocal. The feel is vintage 1920s without any engineering intrusion. “One More Mile” (Muddy Waters) is a quintessential tale of resolute determination. Jimmy Pugh executes a drifting expressive solo on piano that segues into a sharp-edged electric guitar run by Henderson.
A decidedly high note is the contemporary “Lead A Horse To Water”. The hypnotic groove (an irresistible electric piano hook) is transformed by a mesmerizing gospel chorus. Nelson is more than adept at rhythm and blues, taking command with her growling vocals. A hymn-like “Without Love” (a duet with John Cowan) brings the album to a Sunday morning conclusion
This is a coup for an artist whose relevance is timeless.
TrackList: You’ll Be Mine; Lead A Horse To Water; Shoot My Baby; I Know It’s A Sin; Victim Of The Blues; Howlin’ For My Baby; One More Mile; Stranger In My Own Home Town; The Love You Save; Feel So Bad; Without Love
— Robbie Gerson