It’s hard to believe that the hard-working, effervescent Marcia Ball is now fifty years into her career. Surely, she’s been honored and recognized. There are not many who can claim this kind of resume: ten Blues Music Awards, ten Living Blues Awards, five Grammy nominations, and induction into the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame and Louisiana Music of Fame. Just this year the Texas State legislature named her the official 2018 Texas State Musician. Instead of resting on those lofty laurels, Ball is back with a celebratory, rollicking album produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, fittingly recorded in studios both in her birth state of Louisiana and home in Austin, TX. The hallmarks of her work are well represented yet again with NOLA boogie-woogie piano, Texas blues, swamp/zydeco, heartfelt balladry and a few political statements for good measure.
Ball thinks this is her most uplifting record that she’s ever made, saying, “It is a ridiculously hopeful, cheerful record.” Her secret is set the political songs to a good dance beat. Those political songs are “Pots and Pans,” which is an upbeat call to action inspired by acclaimed Texas political writer and humorist Molly Ivins; and “World Full of Love,” a needed dose of optimism in these times. Of course, Ball is also known for her danceable upbeat tunes represented here by “Life of the Party” and the title track, which is the epitome of her unique marriage of political conviction and the danceable beat.
Her backing musicians are in four different configurations depending on the studio and the needs of the song. The five-piece Hot Horns appear on four tracks. Berlin plays his baritone on seven tunes. There are plenty of background vocalists too, most prominently Carolyn Wonderland and Shelly King from Austin.
After the first four rollicking tunes, the ballad “What Would I Do Without You” brings a needed change in tempo. It’s in these kinds of tunes where the emotion in Ball’s vocals really shines through (or, in keeping with the title, brightly). “World Full of Love” with its gospel feel and chorus brings a similar feeling. The last two Professor Longhair inspired piano tunes “Too Much for Me” and “Take A Little Louisiana” will likely become staples in her live show. Her hometown Austin Chronicle once proclaimed, “What’s not to like about Marcia Ball?” Again, we’re left with the same answer – she’s as solid as ever.
- Jim Hynes