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

  • By the Time You Read This, It'll Be Over: A Pre-Newport Ramble
    Missing the first night -- likely the best of the three, given my taste and interest -- is sort of a bummer. But, on the other hand there's still two more days and nights to wander around the festival site, to hopefully discover a new act or the reinvention of something old. And, to be completely honest, the music and performances will run second to jus […]
  • Your Interview with the Jayhawks' Gary Louris
    A couple of weeks ago, we announced a contest to give away some copies of the Jayhawks' remastered and reissued editions of Sound of Lies, Smile, and Rainy Day Music. In the process, we asked you to pose questions you'd like to see Jayhawks founding member Gary Louris answer. Fifty folks entered and Jayhawk Gary Louris… […]
  • Lake Street Dive Motorboats into the Big Time
    The usual pleasantries open the interview with Lake Street Dive's singer extraordinaire, Rachael Price. There’s a mention of a shared acquaintance and a nod to the band's previous appearances in town, the first before a tiny crowd at Norfolk's Taphouse in 2011. "Oh, I recall," Price says. "That was a very memorable show." I […]
  • Chris Smither - Still on the Levee, A Fifty Year Retrospective (Album Review)
    I first heard Chris Smither in 1970. Not live, unfortunately, but on vinyl when picking up his first record I'm A Stranger Here Myself on the Poppy label, unheard, for the simple reason that it was Townes' label. I figured -- rightly so -- any label that knew what a talent he was could certainly be trusted. It did not disappoint. The album not only […]
  • No Depression Is Getting a Facelift: A Note About What's Around the Bend
    Ever since we announced that No Depression had been acquired by FreshGrass back in March, we’ve heard from many of you with questions, concerns, and ideas about the future of this website and the community that gathers here. We created a forum topic at that time so we could organize these comments and refer to them frequently, which we have done as we’ve dev […]
  • Vancouver International Folk Music Festival Day One (Jericho Beach, Vancouver BC - July 18th, 2014)
    A glorious run of unseasonably warm weather for a couple of weeks in Vancouver had me all but convinced that the 37th annual edition of the Vancouver International Folk Music Festival would see rain. We can rarely rely on the sun for that long in the Pacific Northwest, so it seemed like a sure thing. As it turns out I was wrong —… […]

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