Tracy Nelsons new CD is well arranged, recorded, and mixed. The music is artistically performed by a fine group of veteran musicians, and consists of 11 songs she picked as "pretty songs [she] could just sing" -- as opposed to the blues she has mostly performed and recorded through the years. Almost 40 years on, she is revisiting the musical ground of Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country, which linked her to the genre that later became known as "Americana."
Ernest Tubbs classic "Thanks a Lot" rocks. So does Nelsons peppy take on Neil Youngs "Oh Lonesome Me." She lends that song some self-mocking irony that makes it more satisfying than the original. "Salt of the Earth" was written by Nelson along with Guy Clark and Alice Newman, who also sing on this track. It honors a few individual hardworking farmers and through them the vast number who, without complaining, humbly contribute their labor and love, dying only known to their friends and loved ones.
I wanted to adore this album. It has a talented singer and musicians, carefully selected songs, and the aura of a headliner revisiting a genre she helped establish. I like much about it, but overall it does not thrill. The key obstacle: Nelson often pushes her voice too hard, as if trying to prove that shes "still got it." Ironically, she has still got it. Struggling to prove it is the problem.
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