Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mother Earth Living With The Animals 1968

Besides the roots blues of Tracy Nelson's rare 1964 debut Deep Are The Roots, this would be Tracy's introduction to most listeners. Sharing a splendid blues band with R. P. (Phillips) St. John and his strange blues-based psychedelic tripitude, Nelson nevertheless shines.

The band doesn't hurt. Mark Naftalin (piano), ex of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Toad Andrews (guitar), George Rains (drums), and Bob Arthur (bass) are a solid rhythm section, and St. John's harmonica, a full horn section, three back-up singers, and a guest appearance by Michael Bloomfield supply more than enough good music.

The Tracy Nelson lead vocals are all solid blues and R&B, and she sings everything with her magnificently powerful voice. The record features the original recording of her self-penned classic, Down So Low, and it is a jaw-dropping performance. Memphis Slim's Mother Earth is scorched to the ground by Nelson's voice, as is Allen Toussaint's Cry On. I Did My Part has Tracy firing off some hot dance-floor R&B, and It Won't Be Long follows suit. Great horn arrangements and Naftalin's piano are consistent highlights. Her ambitious Goodnight Nelda Grebe... is a complex arrangement and slightly awkward rhythm, but it delights also.

Then there's the R. P. St. John material, and that is hit-and-miss. Some of the misses are pretty bad. Marvel Group, with its Stan Lee inspired lyrics, is funny and spacey, and his Living With The Animals features harmonica and violin in a odd old-time blues setting that is either richly colored or trite bunk. You'll have to pick, I can't decide. His vocal on My Love Will Never Die is saved by great ensemble playing and nuclear horn charts. There's little redeeming The Kingdom Of Heaven, a major space-out that ends the album on a less-than-stellar note.

But if you're here at all, it is definitely for some of Tracy Nelson's earliest work, and not too surprisingly, it is as good as her best. A mere twenty-four when this was recorded, its hard to believe the depth her voice evokes. But not if you've heard her before. Quite possibly the best blues singer of her generation, but at least one of the better white female blues singers of any generation.

The record is "of its time" most certainly, but they were doing some interesting blues in San Francisco in the sixties. Here it is.

Remarkably the record is widely available in used vinyl and new CD. You also can't go wrong with The Best Of Tracy Nelson/Mother Earth, a fine 1996 CD release, also available as a download, that collects much of Tracy's best work throughout the late sixties and early seventies.

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