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CD REVIEW: Tracy Nelson - Ebony & Irony
By Ben Ohmart - 05/31/2001 - 02:56 PM EDT

Artist: Tracy Nelson
Album: Ebony & Irony
CD Review: With over 30 years in the biz, and 20 albums to her credit, Tracy Nelson is one of those hard-workin’ mamas who won’t quit until the earth is shoveled up over her. Late of the group Mother Earth (which she founded) from the 60s, Tracy continues to blend soulful rocknroll with country riffs and blues sense into Bonnie Raitt-style vocals. Power and sensitivity, on equal ground. Difficult ground to make successful music on. But when you’ve been doing it steadily since 1966, you know how it’s done.

The 12 tracks and 44 minutes tend to collect up songs for their vocal value rather than any thematic association. She’ll go from the gospel-pop-ringing opener ‘You Will Find Me There’ to Helen Reddy’s horn an’ bass 70s reign that sparkles in ‘Strongest Weakness,’ the single (better be!), and the single best.

Tracy’s also of the old school as far as songwriting. She doesn’t Do it all herself. Instead, she writes and co-writes a total of 2 cuts. The rest of the time, she’s using the likes of Will Jennings (Titanic theme) and other songwriters; like Joe Cocker, not squeezing out songs just for self-expression. She’s using the tunes that sing to Her. For all songwriters out there everywhere, Tracy, thanks for doing that.

Then there’s Tracy Nelson, the ol’ jazz queen. With ‘How Much Truth’ she dips into that Lena Horne side of her, with that wavering voice. Black or white, it’s hard to tell. But the deep, colorful interpretation is right on. It was ‘a huge leap for me,’ she says. ‘I’ve always admired this song, and Mose Allison, who wrote it.’ Reese Wynans on piano and Byron House on bass sure help back up the little lady.

In 1974 Tracy was nominated for a Grammy for her duet with Willie Nelson, ‘After the Fire Is Gone,’ which was a track from her album on Atlantic Records. ‘I didn’t record in the 80s because there was no place for me to go and when I started again in the 90s, all Rounder Records wanted was blues records.’ Well, she’s back now, combining as many styles as will fit on 1 cd.

Okay, it’s not for everyone. Even Tracy jokingly(?) opens up her cd booklet by stating, ‘For those over 35, we’ve put these on the website at with larger print and song lyrics.’ Now, this May be a cd for the older crowd who likes a comeback queen, but it’s also for new kids just discovering the Origin Decade that was the 1960s. If you think Beatles and Stones are it – TN is one stop you shouldn’t miss either.

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