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Tracy Nelson

You'll Never Be a Stranger at My Door (Memphis International)

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Tracy Nelson has never risen above cult-level status. That's because her music has always resisted easy categorization. She emerged from San Francisco in the late '60s with Mother Earth, a group that juggled jazz, R&B, country, and folk.

Although Nelson's solo work found her heading in a bluesier direction, the singer's latest harks back to the twang of 1969's Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country, a side project she recorded between Mother Earth albums in a style we now call Americana. With arrangements that are tasteful and spare, the new disc spotlights Nelson's emphatic, torch-singer delivery and the swelling harmonies that surround her.

Nelson's plucky versions of country classics like Ernest Tubb's "Thanks a Lot," Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone," and Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" (the latter a rousing, thigh-slapping barn stomper) offer no concessions to modern sensibilities. "Salt of the Earth," Nelson's homage to her farming neighbors, adds a folksy touch. The rest, with its echoes of a bygone era, is often weird and spooky.

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