Tracy Nelson has been a favorite of mine for a long time. I heard her first as the vocalist for the San Francisco and Memphis based group Mother Earth in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Thanks to compact discs, the Mother Earth catalogue has been restored to print in its entirety. I highly recommend it. “Bring Me Home” and “Best of Tracy Nelson/Mother Earth” provide a good overview of her accomplishments with the group.
Tracy started out singing folk, blues, and gospel as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The long out of print “Deep are the Roots” documented her original interests. She was accompanied by the prominent blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite on the album, and one of my college friends wore out the grooves listening to it. I haven’t heard the album since college, but I can still hear Tracy’s version of “Jesus Met the Woman at the Well” in my head forty years later.
Tracy went solo in the mid-70’s. Her 1974 duet with Willie Nelson (“After the Fire is Gone,” included on “Tracy Nelson”) had some chart success and was even nominated for a Grammy. However, Tracy has never had the popular success she deserves. She is a brilliant vocalist. The lady has pipes.
All of her solo material is worth checking out. Among her most recent recordings are “Live From Cell Block D,” with a set steeped in both country and blues, and “You’ll Never Be a Stranger at My Door,” in which she revisits her country favorites.
It took a while for her work to show up on YouTube, but she has finally turned up in some satisfying videos posted there. Tracy has a natural affinity for the blues; her performance of “Walk Away” (video below), backed by the Chicago Blues Reunion, decries “a three-way love affair,” yet it represents a marriage made in heaven. It’s a song Tracy has recorded a couple of times, both times to great effect, though I don’t think it has ever sounded better than this.
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