Tracy Nelson

Victim of the Blues

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The back story to this album doesn't make it any better -- it's already a terrific roots release from one of this generation's most powerful singers -- but it helps the listener appreciate that it even exists. The tapes were rescued from a 2010 fire that destroyed Nelson's 100-year-old farm house, leaving them and the studio as the only surviving parts of the home. The title was decided on before the tragedy but it takes on additional gravitas knowing that this is clearly a woman who understands and has lived her fair share of the blues. Although Nelson's previous effort was a country set, she returns to the blues in a big way on this dozen-track collection of covers from some of the genre's greatest names. Relatively obscure songs from Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Lightnin' Hopkins, Willie Dixon, and Percy Mayfield, among others are bolstered not only by Nelson's always dynamic vocals, but by a sharp, sympathetic band that includes veterans such as keyboardist Jimmy Pugh, guitarist Mike Henderson, and especially bassist Byron House, whose work on standup provides a rubbery bottom that synchs perfectly with the rest of the musicians and Nelson's approach to the material. The playing crackles, inspiring the singer to some of her finest, toughest vocals on selections like Howlin' Wolf's "Howlin' for My Baby," a raucous duet with Angela Strehli. Marcia Ball also swings by to add her piano and vocals to some barroom boogie on a blistering version of Reed's "Shoot My Baby" that also features a gutsy slide guitar solo from Henderson. Nelson's notorious husky vibrato is in fine form on a gospel/soul reading of Joe Tex's classic "The Love You Save," arguably the disc's most riveting performance. Pugh moves to organ for a funky second-line reading of Hopkins' "Feel So Bad" which exudes a hypnotic groove and moves the tune down to the dusty saloons of New Orleans. There's no filler here as Nelson connects with her backing musicians and tunes perfect for her plucky, brassy style. Although she has recorded in various genres, she is such a convincing presence working with this impressive group of talents and distinctive blues tracks, that she could easily devote herself full-time to this genre. Regardless, this is a moving, vibrant recording made even more mesmerizing by the fact that it almost never saw the light of day.

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