Tracy Nelson

Sweet Soul Music

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Tracy Nelson's second post-Mother Earth album is similar to its predecessor, though with a bigger sound than anything she'd utilized before on record. Employing a six-piece band plus the Muscle Shoals Horns and with the Sweet Inspirations on backing vocals, producer Bob Johnston filled Nelson's accompaniment right to the brim across much of the record -- and it did spill over a bit on the original release, with some muddiness in the sound on the vinyl LP. Fortunately, Nelson's vocals are more than up to the task at hand, in both volume and intensity, and they are what count, and come through no matter how busy and lush her musical surroundings ever get. There's a lot of virtuoso playing to go with her performance, to be sure, and sometimes the spotlight seems more on the band than on her. But Nelson holds her own gloriously throughout, starting with the title track opener -- for a high point, look to "Lies" and the soaring "Baby I Found Out," each of which by itself would be worth the price of the album. There are also a few places, such as "Same Old Blues," where the focus leaves her for just a little too long. Still, it is unfair to criticize an album for literally being too much of a good thing, and the CD reissue avoids the modest sonic flaws that were present on the vinyl version. And in any edition, it's a powerful 40 minutes of listening.

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