You can go home again, as Tracy Nelson proves on her first studio album in six years. In 1969 she released Tracy Nelson Country, and although she has never abandoned her roots in that sound, her career has gradually shifted, positioning her closer to the blues belter her remarkable voice is naturally geared toward. Nelson's husky vibrato, although an acquired taste, is used to stunning effect on this set of ten country & western covers and one original. Recorded in a studio underneath the house that Jim Reeves once lived in, Nelson approaches these dusty classics and obscurities with old-school crooning. Despite the opening jazz of "Cow Cow Boogie," whose arrangement Nelson credits to Ella Fitzgerald, and the closing Cajun swing of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me," this is a ballad-heavy collection. Jim Reeves' weepy waltz-time "Four Walls" sets the countrypolitan tone as Nelson's gospel-charged delivery brings gutsy emotion to what was once a rather gooey pop standard. The collection is most successful when it uncovers lost gems such as the midtempo title cut, originally an album track for Juice Newton and Anne Murray. Here Nelson and her backing vocalists bring religious fervor to the tune, elevating it to a new standard even the writer probably never imagined. The Everly Brothers' B-side "I Wonder If I Care as Much" and Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" come alive in fresh arrangements. Another waltz-time weeper, "I've Never Loved Anyone More," grabbed from the Lynn Anderson catalog, features a perfectly tinged, sad piano solo from Steve Conn that melts with Nelson's emotionally charged vocal. Her band, featuring veterans such as bassist Byron House and string wizard Fats Kaplin, finds the sweet spot by providing classy backing but letting Nelson's booming voice take the spotlight. Guy Clark guests on "Salt of the Earth," the disc's only original, and brings his own salty voice to a leisurely, melancholy folk story-song that he also co-authored. The creaky "The Three Bells," originally a '50s pop-country hit from the Browns, also gets an airing, but despite Nelson's best intentions, the song is the album's one misstep because -- even in her hands -- it remains pretty sappy and terribly dated. The singer connects on the rest, though, and while this is miles away from anything on contemporary country radio, it radiates a charm and passion impossible to find in the slick, obvious, emotionless vacuum of prepackaged, over-produced twang that passes as country music in the new millennium.
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AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz