With You’ll Never Be A Stranger At My Door, Tracy Nelson, after almost four decades, revisits the musical territory she first explored on Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country, That experience ensconced her, literally, in the Tennessee countryside and, figuratively, as the doyenne of the genre that, years later, would come to be known as Americana.
She says that she recorded Tracy Nelson Country as “a whim” but that flight of fancy would go on to be an underground sensation. In the succeeding years as a solo artist, including her initial album for Memphis International Live From Cell Block D, her repertoire has been primarily blues-based. This time out, she says “I wanted to do something else, to do an album where the songs are the focus, pretty songs I could just sing.”
Earlier this year, after years of collecting and filing away those kinds of songs, she repaired to George Bradfute’s Tone Chapparel Studio in Nashville with producer Mike Dysinger. She discovered that the studio, where artists ranging from Todd Snider and Joy Lynn White to Webb Wilder and Los Straightjackets have recorded, is situated in the basement of the house where country music giant Jim Reeves once lived. That determined that one of the songs for the album would be one associated with Reeves. So “Four Walls” found its way onto the tune stack.
A cornerstone of the album is “Salt of the Earth” which Tracy, along with Guy Clark and Alice Newman Vestal wrote and it’s a song that touches very close to home for Tracy. It tells the stories of three of Tracy’s Dickson County farmer neighbors and was written from life. Alice is also a neighbor, a young woman whom Tracy has known since birth. “I very nearly delivered Alice.” She’s an accomplished singer/writer having contributed “Last Chance” to Tracy’s highly regarded Ebony & Irony. The song’s poignant narrative began as a poem that Tracy started almost fifteen years ago when one of the three characters in the song, Brown Hill, died. Guy Clark’s sonorous recitation makes this one even more special.
The version of “Cow Cow Boogie” on the album was inspired by Ella Fitzgerald’s. A western-themed jazz tune, it paradoxically kicks off Tracy’s return to “country.” “It makes about as much sense as anything else I’ve done,” Tracy dryly notes. Adding to the polyglot nature of the project, Terry Tucker, a guy who also cuts Tracy’s hair (!), provides the low voice on the track. More to the country point is “I Still Miss Someone” from the Johnny Cash canon and “New Way Out,” from the pen of Randy Sharp, a long-ago single for Karen Brooks. The album’s title song, written by Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Rory Bourke, has been in Tracy’s live repertoire for years and this is the first time she’s gotten around to recording it. “I Wonder If I Care As Much” goes way back to Tracy’s childhood. “When I was young, I bought ‘Bye Bye Love” by the Everly Brothers,” Tracy recollects. “I flipped it over and used to sing a third harmony part with Don and Phil.”
The album’s other highlights include “Thanks A Lot,” an Ernest Tubb classic to which Tracy added some R&B elements as inspired by Brenda Lee, and “Three Bells,” The Browns’ hit that was actually an adaptation of a 1940’s French song by Les Compagnons de Chanson. “I Never Loved Anyone More” was a Lynn Anderson hit from the early 1980s and the album’s last track, Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me” closes the circle opened with Tracy Nelson Country on which Tracy sang Gibson’s “Blue Blue Day.”
Musicians who breathe life to the songs Tracy chose for You’ll Never Be A Stranger At My Door include drummer John Gardner who has worked with the Dixie Chicks, guitarist Bob Britt, another Chicks player who has also worked with Bob Dylan. Tall and slender Fats Kaplin on steel, violin and mandolin has been part of the current bluegrass scene through his work with Kieran Kane and Kevin Welch and bassist Byron House has worked with Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Jorma Kaukonen. Steve Conn, piano, has done sessions with Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Allison Moorer and many others.
One more credit to note: the dogs pictured on the album cover are Shuggie, Bear and Maybelle, lest we forget that Tracy’s first album with Mother Earth was entitled Living With The Animals.