Aficionados will probably debate which of the first two Mother Earth albums is superior. And both camps will have their reasons. The debut, LIVING WITH THE ANIMALS, contained two of Tracy Nelson's signature songs ("Mother Earth" AND "Down So Low"), of course, and had a slew of other great cuts by her and her quirkier male counterpart R. Powell St. John. MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE contained its own share of showstoppers, however--including the ultimate sould torch number "I Need Your Love So Bad" and the country soul of "You Win Again." Plus they opened the floor (or should I say the "mic"?) to other vocalists, and while that's probably unnecessary when your female lead is the greatest white singer of her era (yep, you heard it here first), the two vocals by the soulful Rev. Ronald Stallings are just an incredible plus and "Come On And See," the track featuring bassist Bob Arthur on vocals is a lot of fun to boot.
So in some ways, MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE is just the ultimate hippie collective record. Everybody, who had something to contribute got his/her chance, and while there were certainly greater and lesser lights among the band, NO ONE's was hidden under a bushel. This is, in many ways, the band's warmest, friendliest record. While the groove is something quite different from what the Airplane or Big Brother were doing, it was significant that all three San Fran bands featured a female vocalist (or "chick singer," to use the parlance of the day) who was a commanding presence and who could easily dominate but who was still, in the main, a band member.
Of course, Janis soon went solo, for good or ill, and Tracy Nelson was to become her group's sole vocalist with SATISFIED the band's third release. She was so good that that particular turn of events was probably inevitable. That San Francisco co-operative vibe, so evident in the music of the late '60s, seemed to dry up startlingly quickly in the early '70s, and although it was sad to see that era pass, in a way, maybe it was time. Tracy would go on to record a number of first rate albums with the band before officially going solo in 1974. Those albums. particularly the gospel tinged BRING ME HOME, had a different focus, and a legitimate one. But you could still feel a little nostalgic for the hippie spririt embodied by LIVING WITH THE ANIMALS and MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE.
This album hinted at a transition in the process in another way, too. The LP was divided, not into Side A and Side B (or 1 and 2), but into the "City Side" (urban blues and soul) and the "Country Side" (C&W flavored stuff). While any number of hippie bands in the late '60s were pulling up stakes and leaving the Haight for Marin County or some other bucolic (but still regional) locale, Tracy and the gang headed to Nashville area to record their "Country Side!" They actually decided they preferred it there (well, most of 'em anyway), moved there for good shortly thereafer and hence became the furthest flung of the San Fran refugee bannds.
The country sides included on MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE were actually not in such stark opposition to the more urban "city" tracks really. Sure "You Win Again" and "Wait, Wait, Wait" are recognizably C&W based tunes, but Tracy delivers them with the same fiery passion that she demonstrates on "Soul of the Man" or the aforementioned "Need Your Love So Bad." Mother Earth was an eclectic band in an era that was open to that. It was truly a great and open-ended musical era. We can be Tracy Nelson has persevered and has preserved that spirit to this very day.