Jump to Content

Welcome! You’re browsing the No Depression Archives

No Depression has been the foremost journalistic authority on roots music for well over a decade, publishing 75 issues from 1995 to 2008. No Depression ceased publishing magazines in 2008 and took to the web. We have made the contents of those issues accessible online via this extensive archive and also feature a robust community website with blogs, photos, videos, music, news, discussion and more.

Close This

Not Fade Away - Reissue Review from Issue #55 Jan-Feb 2005

Mother Earth

Living With The Animals / Make A Joyful Noise (Wounded Bird)

Almost since its release, Sgt. Pepper’s has been lauded as the best, most influential album in pop history — by now, a received opinion of arguable import. But even if true, the Beatles touchstone was more the culmination of an era than a signifier of things to come. In its wake, Dylan encamped with the Hawks to re-imagine Harry Smith’s Anthology, Gram Parsons embellished rock with country usages (or vice versa), and John Fogerty brought flannel, a sense of history and a love of song to the Bay Area. Hundreds of semi-obscure, roots-oriented bands followed in their wake — if you will, a proto-alt.country movement: Kaleidoscope, Cleanliness & Godliness Skiffle Band, the Insect Trust…and Mother Earth.

An easy shorthand for Tracy Nelson’s original unit is Big Brother without the psychedelic baggage, and in fact, the bands’ similarities were striking. Both embraced a ragged marriage of blues, R&B and country marked by a sense of openness and possibility, and both were fronted by women with big, distinctive voices — perhaps the pre-eminent white blues singers of their era.

But their differences are just as telling. Big Brother’s rough mix was a music of tension and extremes, with Janis Joplin’s untethered virtuosity often at odds with her group’s garage origins. On the other hand, Mother Earth’s synthesis was more organic — redolent of front porches and summer parties, accomplished and arranged but with a crucial looseness. Similarly, Nelson is a standout among equals; even when she indulges the full range of her instrument (which she does often, and to winning effect), the results are enriched by her deep, rounded mid-tones.

Living With The Animals is the vocal showcase — not just Nelson’s signature “Down So Low”, but also Memphis Slim’s found anthem “Mother Earth”, Allen Toussaint’s bereft “Cry On”, and R.P. St. John Jr.’s intense closer “The Kingdom Of Heaven (Is Within You)”, intoned with Old Testament gravitas.

The follow-up, Make A Joyful Noise, is more songful, its modest though fully-realized ambitions suggested by its A/B titles: “City Side” and “Country Side”. The set features a broader vocal pallet (including two key Ronald Stallings contributions), stronger originals, and a more idiosyncratic and, hence, representative mix of covers (Doug Sahm’s “I Wanna Be Your Mama, Again” is a stroke). Together, the reissues evoke the hippie ethos at its most grounded and humane, a communal spirit that nourishes as well as sustains.

Enjoy the ND archives? Consider making a donation with PayPal or send a check to:
No Depression, 460 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94108


Did you enjoy this article? Start a discussion about it, or find out what others are saying in the No Depression Community forum.

Join the Discussion »

Find out what's going on in roots music. Share concert photos and videos, learn about new artists, blog about the music you love.

Join the No Depression Community »

Originally Featured in Issue #55 Jan-Feb 2005

Buy our history before it’s gone!

Each issue is artfully designed and packed full of great photos that you don‘t get online. Visit the No Depression store to own a piece of history.

Visit the No Depression Store »

From the Blogs

  • Dylan, "Desire" and the (other) Story of Hurricane: A Lesson In Fatherhood
    Reading of the death of former pro boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter today awoke an old memory which reminded me how lucky I was to have, what in retrospect, was a pretty cool father.  I should add by "cool" I do not mean some kind of "over the hill hipster" who, in a desperate attempt at trying to stay relevant smokes pot or acts […]
  • Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes – Black Coffee (Album Review)
    After a successful solo outing, Aussie country singer Lachlan Bryan got his old band back into the studio and came up with this cracker of an album. It was released in the autumn of last year in Australia and subsequently picked up a major award as “Alternative Country” album of the year. Such acclaim means any belated praise from me is superfluous, but I’m […]
  • Album Reviews: Gord Downie & The Sadies, Bruce Springsteen, Lost & Nameless, The Annie Ford Band
    Gord Downie, The Sadies, and the Conquering Sun The lead singer of one of Canada’s most influential rock bands gets together with one of the best live bands ever for a collaborative effort and the expected results could range anywhere from confusion to straight ahead awesomeness. Thankfully (and not surprisingly, given the players involved) the semi-eponymou […]
  • Blackberry Smoke Is the Goddamn Truth
    Southern rock is a stylistic hodgepodge--a musical mutt.  Yet in this gumbo pot of a country, its impurities and cross-breeding make it the most American genre of all. And with the Allman Brothers drawing down, southern rock's current standard bearer is Blackberry Smoke, a lofty perch they hardly jeopardized during a lively set last night at Seattle […]
  • Goldie and the Gingerbreads: The First All-Female Guitar Band
    It could only happen in America: In 1947, a 7-year-old Polish-Jewish girl named Genyusha "Genya" Zelkovicz arrived in New York City's Lower East Side with her parents and a sister, speaking not a word of English. They were the only ones in their family to survive the Holocaust. Genya's mother nicknamed her Goldie, and thus began her Ameri […]
  • Wayne Kramer - Lexington (Album Review)
    Wayne Kramer is someone who's life story I'd very much like to read. From lead guitar in the Mighty MC5 to prison inmate to social activist (he recently interviewed Pussy Riot, and is constantly active in speaking out against such injustices) to new father, Kramer's life has an interesting story in every chapter. His latest record release (and […]

Shop Amazon by clicking through this logo to support NoDepression.com. We get a percentage of every purchase you make!

Subscribe To the No Depression Newsletter

Subscribe to the No Depression Newsletter