Tracy Nelson "In the Here and Now" Rounder

It's been half a generation since we last heard anything new from Nelson, former lead singer of Mother Earth, the '60s Bay Area blues and country band.

For her first album of the compact-disc era, she goes for scorching, unadulterated blues, applying a voice that's still as big as the great outdoors and as deeply hued as a prize ruby to covers of Elmore James' "It Hurts Me Too," Willie Dixon's "Whatever I Am (You Made Me)" and Elvie Thomas' "Motherless Child Blues."

The one original among the album's 11 songs, "Living the Blues" (by Nelson and Gary Nicholson) fits right with those by the masters with such bluer-than-blue lines as "I feel so bad / I don't want to feel better." With her facility for head-thrown-back, take-no-prisoners belting, Nelson would be an ideal duet partner for Orange County's own James Harman. Until that happens, though, fans happily can settle for her at-desperation's-door duet with New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas on Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love"--backed, like everything else here, by a band as tight as a West Point bedsheet.

Let's hope it doesn't take another audio-technological breakthrough to get Nelson back into the studio again.

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