VICTIM OF THE BLUES Tracy Nelson (Delta Groove Music)
Tracy Nelson's mature and sometimes steamy vocals shift effortlessly from low-down, edgy styles in a Delta groove to high-energy, rock-infused romps with a Chicago flavor. Through these 11 songs she shows off a no-nonsense delivery on the slow stuff and then an occasional growl to emphasize a point of the harder blues.
Nelson has been active in the music scene since the 1960s when she recorded with Mother Earth, the band she formed, sharing the stage with such luminaries as the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jefferson Airplane. Besides performing with blues artists Marcia Ball and Muddy Waters, she also was nominated for a Grammy for "After the Fire Is Gone," a country duet with Willie Nelson. After six Mother Earth albums, she turned to a solo career.
The power of Nelson's vocals is very much evident here, especially in a blazing duet with John Cowan on "Without Love." Blues belter Angela Strehli joins Nelson in a kickin' version of "Howlin' for My Baby," and Ball lends a vocal assist and some hot piano on an album highlight, "Shoot My Baby."
There are no weaknesses here, which is why its 40-minute length seems woefully brief.
-- KEN ROSENBAUM
SHAKE 'EM ON DOWN: A TRIBUTE TO MISSISSIPPI FRED MCDOWELL Rory Block (Stony Plain Records)
Delta bluesman Fred McDowell, who died in 1972 at age 68, was famous for uttering the phrase "I do not play no rock and roll."
But in this loving tribute to him, New York native Rory Block -- one of the world's most accomplished guitarists of the Delta blues genre -- makes a case for why he did. Or, as she states in her liner notes "if he did not, he practically invented it. He [much like Muddy Waters] taught electric players to take the rock solid groove of the soul of country blues and bring it into modern music."
McDowell was one of the first artists from the North Mississippi region to gain national attention after being "rediscovered" and subsequently recorded in 1959 by the late Alan Lomax, one of the nation's most renowned roots-music archivist pioneers. McDowell also has had songs of his covered by the Rolling Stones and other artists, was a vital part of the country blues revival of the early 1960s, and is credited for making careers of Bonnie Raitt and other blues-rock crossovers possible.
Through her deft plucking, slide guitar, and gritty vocals, Block offers an intensive academic look back at McDowell and a celebration of his underrated influence, breaking loose with a bouncy, joyful tempo at times on songs such as "Mississippi Man" and the title track. This is her third tribute CD to classic American blues artists, following up on earlier ones to Robert Johnson and Son House.
-- TOM HENRY
NOW Linda Eder (Sony Masterworks)
The first thing to be said about this new release from Linda Eder is that she is a tremendous singer. A Star Search winner, whose career has taken her to Broadway, the recording studio, and concert halls, she has great range, a mastery of tone, and she sometimes sings as though reaching for the upper circle.
For "Now" she re-unites with composer Frank Wildhorn, with whom she had a long-term musical collaboration until they parted ways some six years ago, on 12 of his songs that use an array of lyricists.
Those songs, some from musicals, range from brightly up-tempo ("Not Gonna Fall This Time") to ballads ("Ordinary People"), samba ("What Did You See Inside The Stars"), rather theatrical ("What's Never Been Done Before"), and more pop-oriented ("More Than Heaven"). All are performed with vocal flair and skill, and generally unintrusive accompaniments.
So, all very well done. And aficionados of Broadway, or Broadway-style music will find much to enjoy. For others, it will sound a bit over the top at times, a little too dramatic in that stage musical kind of way which doesn't always travel well outside the theater.
-- RICHARD PATON