Tracy Nelson is a well-kept secret unless you play or love the blues. If the blues are a part of your life, then you know she possesses one of its legendary voices.
She was born in Madison, Wisconsin, which is not recognized as a mecca of American blues. By the time she was 20, she had migrated to Chicago and was rubbing elbows with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Otis Span.
1966 found her in California as the lead vocalist for Mother Earth. They released six albums, 1966-1973, and were a staple at The Fillmore West. They shared the stage with the likes of The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Burdon.
Mother Earth disbanded during 1973 and she embarked on a solo career which has lasted to the present day. She has one of the great female voices in American blues. She is able to convey an emotion that would have made many of the old Chicago and Delta blues masters proud. John Swenson of Rolling Stone Magazine wrote, “Tracy Nelson proves that the human voice is the most expressive instrument in creation.” To that I say, Amen!
Thanks to The Burns, Tennessee Volunteer Fire Department, she is about to release her latest album, Victim Of The Blues. Her home burned to the ground as the recording of the album was coming to a close and the only room that was completely saved was her recording studio.
As a singer, she always surrounds herself with excellent musicians. On board for this project were guitarist Mike Henderson, bassist Byron House, drummer John Gardner, and keyboardist Jimmy Pugh. Vocalists who engage in duets with Nelson are Angela Strehli, John Cowan, and four-time Grammy Award nominee, Marcia Ball.
This is, pure and simple, a straightforward American blues album. She covers 11 songs by some of the best blues performers and songwriters of all time. The opening track is Willie Dixon’s “You’ll Be Mine,” which she takes out for a rare female-oriented ride. She had performed “Shoot Me Baby” with its author, Jimmy Reed, on stage. Marcia Ball provides the duet this time. Ma Rainey was one of her early influences and here she covers her “Victim Of Love,” which became the album’s title. “Without Love” reaches back to her time with Mother Earth, and John Cowan joins her for the vocal duet.
She goes in a somewhat different direction in her choice of material on two of the tracks, although her interpretation is pure blues. Percy Mayfield was a rhythm & blues artist who also wrote many songs for others. His most famous song was the Ray Charles hit, “Hit The Road Jack.” His “Stranger In My Own Home Town” was another song performed by Mother Earth back in the late 1960s. It is a tough lament, which fits a blues interpretation well. She also covers Joe Tex’s “The Love You Save (May Be Your Own).” It was a song she performed regularly over 40 years ago when she was a part of a rhythm & blues cover band, and she finally decided to record it.
Victim Of The Blues marks the return of one of America’s best living blues vocalists. It’s an essential release for anyone even remotely interested in the blues.