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Marcia Ball – Roadside Attractions

Alligator Records

12 tracks; 43.32 minutes

Singer, songwriter and ace piano player Marcia Ball returns with her fifth CD for Alligator but this time she has written or co-written all the material. It would be a major surprise if a Marcia CD was not top rate and this one is no exception, with the mix of New Orleans rhythms, Texas blues and gorgeous ballads that her fans expect. “Roadside Attractions” was produced by Gary Nicholson who co-wrote four of the tracks, two in conjunction with other authors too. The tracks were recorded in two locations with two different bands: six feature Marcia’s road band and were recorded in her home town of Austin; six were recorded in Nashville. The Austin tracks feature a core band of Mike Schermer on guitar, long-serving bass player Don Bennett, Damien Llanes on drums and Thad Scott on sax; the Nashville band is Colin Linden on guitar, Steve Mackey on bass and Lynn Williams on drums. Reese Wynans adds B3 to two Nashville tracks, Jim Hoke plays sax on one Nashville track and Joel Guzman plays accordion on one Austin track. Wendy Moten provides backing vocals on most tracks and the Mingo Fishtrap Horns beef up three tracks with their sax and trumpet support.

The album kicks off with “That’s How It Goes”, a piano led stomper with plenty of handclaps. In the title track “Roadside Attractions” Marcia tells us that all the sights of the world pale into insignificance compared with her lover at home: “Lookout Mountain is a big old molehill, the Grand Canyon is just a crack; Old Faithful is a pickle, Niagara Falls a trickle, the Taj Mahal is nothing but a shack”. Colin Linden’s slide guitar sits beautifully alongside Marcia’s piano on this superb cut. However, even stronger is “Between Here And Kingdom Come”, a mid-paced romantic ballad about where Marcia comes from: “It’s not close to anywhere, every call’s long distance there; two lane highway and one red light. It’s not much, but it’s my home, out between here and Kingdom Come.”. On all her records there is an example of a song like this and personally I cannot get enough of these great, emotional songs.

“We Fell Hard” is an uptempo rocker with horns in support before “Look Before You Leap”, a co-write with Gary Nicholson and Dan Penn. It has a definite Delbert McClinton feel, possibly influenced by both Marcia and Gary being regulars on Delbert’s Sandy Beaches Cruises! “I Heard It All” is a variation of the age-old theme of lovers hearing the truth through thin walls (think Robert Cray’s “Right Next Door”), here the twist is that Marcia’s character hears the lover telling his wife that he is planning to break off the affair, while she is listening in the next room! You can bet she is not happy!

“Believing In Love” is another co-write with Gary Nicholson, a catchy tune which swings along with Reese Wynans’ swirling organ well to the fore and a great sax solo from Jim Hoke. Marcia takes a more serious tone on “This Used To Be Paradise”, a song about the oil pollution in the Gulf and the negative effects that has had on the communities that depend on the Gulf for their livelihood. Joel Guzman’s accordion adds a suitably sad tone to the music. In contrast “Everybody’s Looking For The Same Thing” is a happy song about looking for love.

The last three tracks epitomise the range that Marcia Ball offers in her music. First “Sugar Boogie” is a classic foot tapping boogie. Thad Scott doubles the sprightly piano lines on his sax and Mike Schermer offers a jazz toned guitar solo. “Mule Headed Man” is a real blues, a song that someone like Bessie Smith might have sung. Her man is so stubborn that he continues to drink whisky although it is killing him. This time round Mike Schermer provides a tough bluesy solo which leads into a rolling piano break from Marcia, evoking the spirit of the late Pinetop Perkins with whom Marcia often played in his Austin days. Finally “The Party’s Still Going On” (co-written with Gary Nicholson and Tom Hambridge) closes the CD with a healthy dose of New Orleans party fun.

This is a really well paced and varied CD that grows on every listen, a fine addition to Marcia’s extensive discography and a real contender for album of the year..

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.

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