Sunday, July 10, 2005

Marcia Ball - Live Down the Road (Alligator, 2005)

Marcia Ball is such a fixture on the blues circuit, it's hard to believe that this is the first live album of her long career. It's an environment that suits her crowd pleasing piano pounding and soulful singing quite well, and it doesn't hurt that she's got a hot band including a horn section and an organist backing her up and filling out the sound. The setlist is made up of a lot of her best known material from previous albums, so fans will feel right at home and newcomers will get something of a greatest hits package in the bargain.

The music is a mix of blasting uptempo piano driven house rockers, and slower ballad pieces which feature the soulful emotionality of her voice. The boogies include "Big Shot" and "Right Tool for the Job" as well as blasting, rollicking versions of concert favorites "Louella" and "Crawfishin.'" As good as these are, highpoint of the set may be a haunted version of Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927" about floodwaters devastating a rural community. It's particularly interesting given the hurricane battering the south this weekend, and the heartbroken beauty of her clear, strong voice make this a thing of beauty.

The band is well rehearsed and stays with her every step of the way, and everybody gets a solo turn when they blast into the old blues standard "Let Me Play With Your Poodle" which ends the set. Ball sings the double entendre blues with impish glee, pounding out chords in the piano and belting out the lyrics. This is a fun CD that is easily recommended to fans of blues and R&B.

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