Life Don’t Miss Nobody
Ms. “Mother Earth” may have taken a long break, but she sure hasn’t missed a beat. Tracy Nelson celebrates her calling with Life Don’t Miss Nobody, her first new album since 2011’s Victim of the Blues. Nelson began recording acoustic blues in 1965 in her hometown Madison, Wisconsin. She followed her muse to San Francisco during 1967’s “Summer of Love” and formed the roots and blues collective Mother Earth. Their albums, and Nelson’s subsequent solo recordings, are consistently enjoyable mélanges of blues and other Americana styles. Nelson’s an artist at ease with anything she sings but striking all the same. Her 1998 album with Marcia Ball and Irma Thomas remains a classic that ties each lady’s regional roots into a bundle of supreme entertainment. No wonder it’s titled Sing It!
Several of the songs on Life Don’t Miss Nobody are tried and true, but all make fresh impressions by way of Nelson’s vision for them, and her performances. But the vital nature also has as much to do with the A-list players, drummer John Gardiner, bassist Byron House, pianists Kevin McKendree and Steve Conn, and guitarists Mike Henderson and Larry Chaney, among them. Cut live in two days in Nashville, the immediacy can be felt right off the kick in a boisterous take on the traditional “Strange Things Happening Every Day.” Lit by McKendree’s bright 88s, the sentiment Nelson conveys with such buttery tone and even-tempered power, rings as true as ever. Ma Rainey’s “Yonder Come the Blues” feels like waking up, a down home breeze swinging the window curtains, and the blues of the day dawning. Nelson grinds out Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Your Funeral and My Trial” in duet with up and comer Jontavious Willis, who peppers the tune with Resonator guitar, proving himself a bluesman to keep an eye on.
Allen Toussaint’s “I Did My Part” provides the perfect context for Nelson’s reunion with Irma Thomas and Marcia Ball, the rollicking beat of the tune straddling the border of Louisiana and Texas blues. The ladies remain wonderful in harmony. The great Charlie Musselwhite then toots his harp to punctuate Nelson’s pleading in “It Don’t Make Sense,” a Willie Dixon blues that makes perfect sense right now and has McKendree and Henderson playing particularly striking notes. Ending the album with a romp, Nelson, Ball, Thomas, Reba Russell, Diane Davidson, and Vickie Carrico all trade the verses on Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” another reminder of how a great song can transcends generations and pack a wallop. Welcome back, Tracy Nelson. We sure did miss you. You wear 78 quite well.
Tom Clarke for MAS