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Tracy Nelson – Victim Of The Blues

Delta Groove Music

11 tracks; 40.36 minutes

Tracy Nelson has been recording for over 40 years and is probably best remembered for her vocals with San Francisco based band Mother Earth in the late 60’s. She has had success in blues and country music, but her initial recordings were heavily influenced by what she discovered in the blues clubs of Chicago in the early 60’s. Although Tracy has remained linked to the blues, this is her first out and out blues recording for many years. The CD is a return to the music that first influenced her, a homage to the original artists, many of whom Tracy was fortunate to see live in Chicago. Tracy has not written any new material for the record, but there is really no need, as she interprets a selection of the greats of the blues. There are two Jimmy Reed songs, one each from Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Ma Rainey, Percy Mayfield and Joe Tex and one made famous by Irma Thomas, written by Danny Small. The one exception is a contemporary Earl Thomas song that in the sleeve notes Tracy says she heard it and assumed it was “written back in the day”.

The album was recorded in three studios in Tennessee and produced by Tracy’s partner Mike Dysinger. The core band on all tracks is Mike Henderson on guitar, Jimmy Pugh on keys, Byron House on bass and John Gardner on drums. Guests include Angela Strehli and John Cowan on vocals on one track each and Marcia Ball brings her piano and vocals to one track. There is a choir of five backing vocalists, including the afore-mentioned John Cowan and Reba Russell from Memphis.

The album starts in fine style with “You’ll Be Mine”, Willie Dixon’s song best known from Howling Wolf’s version. This version rocks along with excellent piano and a searing guitar solo, all supporting Tracy’s strong vocal performance. Next up is Earl Thomas’ “Lead A Horse To Water”, a mid-paced soulful number with echoey electric piano and moody guitar. “Shoot My Baby” is the first of two consecutive Jimmy Reed songs, an uptempo foot tapper which is the shortest on the CD, again led by the piano, this time played by Marcia Ball who also sings. “I Know It’s A Sin” is more sedate, the choir supporting the vocals well and the organ giving almost a hymn like quality to the tune.

Ma Rainey’s “Victim Of The Blues” provides the album title, most appropriately as the album tapes were saved from a disastrous fire at Tracy’s home in 2010. The title also fits with Tracy’s early seduction by the blues; she always tries to include one of either Ma Rainey’s or Bessie Smith’s songs on her albums. This sad tale of the girl rejected by her lover is played pretty much as it might have been when it was first recorded, with an instrument billed as a “banjolin” taking one solo alongside the piano. Wolf’s “Howlin’ For My Baby” is a duet with Angela Strehli and barrels along nicely with more strong piano and guitar support. Muddy’s “One More Mile” came to Tracy through Otis Spann’s version and appropriately Jimmy Pugh’s piano is very much to the fore on this slow blues. Percy Mayfield’s lament “Stranger In My Own Home Town” follows a similar lyrical vein before Joe Tex’s “The Love You Save” brings a touch of gospel feel to the CD. “Feel So Bad” is a well-known song and its stop/start rhythm is always catchy. Tracy learned it from Little Milton but it is correctly attributed to its author, Lightning Hopkins. The final cut is a tribute to one of Tracy’s great influences and friends, Irma Thomas, “Without Love (There Is Nothing)”, a slow, soulful song that is done here as a duet with John Cowan with stellar support from the choir. A fine and moving finale to the disc.

This is a fine CD, allowing us to hear Tracy’s great voice in a solely blues context again. It is interesting to see that Delta Groove have picked up this CD, once again demonstrating their good judgement on material that deserves to be heard widely.

Review John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music. He was recently on the January 2011 Legendary Blues Cruise.

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