Tracy Nelson – Life Don’t Miss Nobody | Album Review

Tracy Nelson – Life Don’t Miss Nobody

BMG Records

13 songs – 47 minutes

A key component of the blues and roots since she made her debut with the Deep Are the Roots LP in 1965 with Charlie Musselwhite serving as a backing musician, Tracy Nelson hasn’t been in the studio often in recent years. But each time she makes a visit, it’s special – and she’s at the absolute top of her game with this star-studded effort – her first solo release in more than decade.

The Wisconsin native rocked to worldwide acclaim in the late ‘60s when she co-founded the seminal blues-rock band, Mother Earth, in San Francisco, becoming a regular fixture at both the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom, where they shared billing with Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

When Mother Earth laid new roots in Nashville, she enjoyed a successful foray into country music for a spell, but the blues have always dominated her career, which has included stops at several labels — Atlantic, Mercury, Adelphi, Flying Fish, Rounder, Delta Groove and Memphis International included. Back on the West Coast in recent years, she’s worked alongside Angela Strehli, Dorothy Morrison and Annie Simpson as a member of the Blues Broads and has appeared intermittently with the Missouri-based band, the Bel-Airs, and as part of Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues, which fuses roots and classical music.

This disc truly has been a blessing for Nelson because – as she states in the liner notes – it’s helped her fulfill several items on her bucket list…musical reunions with Willie Nelson, Marcia Ball, Irma Thomas and Musselwhite. But the lineup also includes several other treasures, too: three-time Blues Music Award winning horn player of the year Terry Hanck, the sensational Jontavious Willis and Willie’s harp player, Mickey Raphael, too.

Engineered, mixed and co-produced by Roger Alan Nichols at Bell Tone Recording in Nashville with additional, tracking at eight other studios scattered across the U.S., Tracy powerful pipes resonate beautifully on all 13 tracks. And she adds Wurlitzer piano and acoustic and 12-string guitar, too. The extensive lineup includes Larry Cheney, Mike Henderson, Mike Johnson, Nichols and Willis on guitars, Kevin McKendree, Steve Conn and Jim Pugh on keys with John Gardner on drums and Byron House on bass.

They’re augmented by a horn section composed of Jack Warner, Dominique Caster, Chase Carpenter and Gabriel Collins with Doug Mosher sitting in on clarinet and Mike Dysinger on percussion. And the Angelics, Dianne Davidson, Vickie Carrico, Reba Russell and Isaac Ferguson Dillard contribute backing vocals. A percussive keyboard run from McKendree kicks off a rousing take of the take of the traditional “Strange Things Happening Every Day,”  but it only takes a heartbeat until Tracy shows off her vocal prowess in a rendition that comes with full-on gospel call-and-response.

The action slows for a cover of  Doc Pomus’ “There’s Always One More Time” but retains the spiritual feel thanks to the chorus and sweet harp runs from Raphael before shifting into a minor-key blues for Nelson’s original, “Life Don’t Miss Nobody,” which features a lush arrangement and cautions that no matter how successful and happy you might be, never underestimate the world’s ability for “takin’ back its toys.” Willis joins the action on resonator guitar and shares vocals for a rock-steady take on Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Your Funeral and My Trial” before Tracy turns back the clock even farther for a traditional hokum take on Ma Rainey’s “Yonder Comes the Blues” and then joins forces with Ball and turns on the heat for “I Did My Part,” a Big Easy pleaser written by Allen Toussaint under the pseudonym Naomi Neville.

Tracy’s on 12-string for an interesting reworking of the Stephen Foster-penned traditional, “Hard Times.” But there’s joy in every note as Nelson reunites with Willie and trades verses with him on Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonkin’” aided by lilting runs from Raphael and Johnson on pedal steel. Nashville yields for Chicago and Musselwhite for Nelson for a slow-and-deliberate version of Willie Dixon’s plea for peace, “It Don’t Make Sense,” before things get funky with Hanck on horn for “Compared to What,” which was a monster hit for Roberta Flack in 1969.

The cautionary ballad, “Where Do You Go (When You Can’t Go Home),” was co-written with Ball but features Nelson in full partnership with her choir throughout before Marcia, Irma, Reba, Dianne and Vickie all take turns on verses of Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” Tracy takes listeners to church with a solo version of “Hard Times” to close.

There’s no other way to describe it…listening to a new album from Tracy Nelson is like opening a new bottle of perfectly aged wine. Every sip’s better than the last. Drink deep, and enjoy!

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