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March/April 2011

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Marcia Ball
Roadside Attractions
Alligator Records

Marcia Ball

Marcia Ball readily admits that her latest disc on Alligator Records, Roadside Attractions, is her most personal release to date. The first disc she’s ever recorded that features all original writing by Marcia herself, as well as tunes she co-authored with the likes of Gary Nicholson, Tom Hambridge and Dan Penn, Roadside Attractions is a tour de force that will be in my top 10 list at the end of the year and is sure to garner Marcia several nominations at next year’s Blues Music Awards. There’s not a bad cut on the disc and Marcia has surrounded herself with a number of outstanding musicians to assist her in meeting her vision for this project. So let’s have at it.

Kicking the party off is “That’s How It Goes,” a joyous tune celebrating life on the road. “So count your blessings…one by one…and welcome every rising sun…cause pretty soon your race is won…don’t you know….that’s how it goes!” Steve Mackey’s bass line is infectious and we’re off and running. The title cut, “Roadside Attractions,” is up next and features Marcia’s commentary on all the sights she’s seen on the road, while readily admitting she’d rather be getting home. “I’m coming home…just as fast as I can…I’m just not entertained…by any other man…there might be 7 billion people in this world…but I’m still your girl…I’m still your girl!”

The tempo slows down slightly on the next tune, “Between Here and Kingdom Come.” “I know why…the tom cat prowls…walking all the way from town…just to watch a summer’s storm…laying out in my front yard…its June bug time…and we’re drinking wine…all lit up…like fire flies…he’s got a bug…give me some…all between here and kingdom come!” Marcia’s definitely at home, “all between here…and kingdom come!”

“We Fell Hard” is a love song where Marcia readily admits she fell hard for the man she loves. “We fell hard for each other…you could say we landed on our feet…we fell hard for each other…in spite of everything…it still comes down to you and me!” Thad Scott and the Mingo Fishtrap Horns all lend their talents to the tune and give it a classical New Orleans feel.

Marcia finds herself compelled to share advice she learned as a child on our next tune, “Look before You Leap!” The summer heat in Louisiana finds her climbing up a pine tree to jump into the creek to cool off and just before she jumps, she hears her mother say, “You better look…before you leap…you might find yourself in too deep….there might be danger you can’t see…you’d better look before you leap!” Mama’s wisdom repeated itself in numerous situations as Marcia grew older, discovered boys and embarked on many other adventures. Turns out Mama gave her good advice.

Marcia could have used Mama’s advice as she recounts her tale of a motel romance gone bad in “I Heard It All.” Marcia arrived early for the tryst and ended up hearing her man arguing with his wife in the room next door. But Marcia’s a fighter and had a few things to say, “I heard it all…through the wall…you were begging her to take you back…I heard it all…through the wall…I never thought you’d do me like that…I told her…he swore he loved me…said your marriage was at an end…and it’s a well-known fact…that if you take him back…he did it one…and he’ll do it again!” Marcia left with her pride intact and that’s really all she could do in this situation.

Reese Wynans takes the helm at the Hammond B-3 as Marcia recounts the tale of a relationship working despite the hardships in “Believing in Love!” “When I’m weak…you’re strong…you give me the faith to carry on..I can trust the feeling….you keep me believing…believing in love!” It would have been easier to walk away but their ability to communicate saw them through the hard times. “This Used to Be Paradise” is an autobiographical tale of Marcia’s childhood and time spent with her grandfather. Her grandfather was a fisherman and life back then was good. “We had a…little house…on high ground…cypress trees…all around…good living, peace and quiet…this used to be paradise!” Then the oil companies moved in but the living and the fishing just wasn’t the same. “We still…run our boats…and drag our nets…every day we get…less…and less and less!” “It’s a damn shame to make an old man cry…this used to be paradise!”

The human condition is a constant one and Marcia lends credence to it in our next song, “Everybody’s Looking for the Same Thing.” “You can’t get it in the lost and found…it’s not hidden in the closet…or buried in the ground…and it will make you sing…I got the world on a string…everyone’s looking for the same old thing…its Love!” Here’s hoping everyone finds what they’re looking for.

“Sugar Boogie” is an upbeat discussion of the benefits of sugar in one’s life. “Smell that kettle…piping hot…just a little bit will hit the spot…put it in your coffee…put it in your tea…sprinkle it on a pastry…cook it up…melt it down…serve it white…or serve it brown…a little sugar…makes your day complete!” A lot of us are hard-headed in this world so I’m not surprised to see Marcia comment on that fact in “Mule Headed Man.” “Lord, my man is stubborn…you can’t tell him anything…he’s got a strong opinion…on any subject….you can bring…he likes to drink his whiskey…even though it’s killing him…yes, he drinks his whiskey…yes, he knows it’s killing him…you can’t make him quit it…he’d rather have his whiskey…than live…he’s a mule headed man!”

This entire disc has been up tempo and the final cut, “The Party’s Still Going On,” is an appropriate way to close out the record. “Papa’s in the kitchen…I wonder what he’s fixin…it sure is smelling good…he’s throwing everything he’s got…into the pot…he’s going to feed the whole neighborhood…and the party’s still going on…we’re going to rock until the break of dawn!”

It’s easy to see why Marcia feels this is her most personal release to date. The entire disc just brims with energy and her celebration of life on the road. Gary Nicholson did an excellent job of producing it and it’s definitely one disc you can throw in your CD player and party all night long to. It definitely will garner Marcia some Blues Music Award nominations for next year and rightfully so. Well done, Marcia!!

--- Kyle Deibler


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