Shine Bright (Alligator
Records) is by my count the 14th album released
by the venerable Marcia Ball, and I can
unequivocally say that this fantastic
entertainer has never recorded anything that's
less than excellent. She remains one of the most
consistently outstanding performers in the blues
world today. She puts everything she's got into
every single song --- really, into every single
note --- and her latest disc on Alligator is no
exception. Ms. Ball is backed here by a rotating
group of musicians depending on the recording
location (Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana
and two different locations in Austin, Texas) as
well as the needs of each of the dozen songs.
Produced by Steve Berlin, Shine Bright is
a delightful mix of Ball originals and
Ms. Ball immediately shows off her extraordinary New
Orleans-style piano skills on the title cut, an uplifting number on
which she mentions both musicians (Little Richard, Irma Thomas, etc.)
and non-musicians (Jackie Robinson, Ann Richards) who all shined bright
in their influential lifetimes. Shelley King and Carolyn Wonderland
contribute very fine backing vocals here, as they do on many of the
album's cuts. The Ernie K-Doe 1962 Minit classic, "I Got To Find
Somebody," is next, with the recurring line " ... find someone who will
treat me right, so I can stay home at night ..."
It wouldn't be a Marcia Ball album without a song
talking about driving around in some kind of classic car, and here she
talks about a grandma's car on the mid-tempo shuffle "They Don't Make 'Em
Like That." What makes every Ball album great is how she diversifies
into so many different styles of music, with "Life Of The Party" having
a calypso sound. Producer Berlin leads the horn section with great
accompaniment on this one.
The Ray Charles original "What Would I Do Without You"
is an inspirational love story prefaced by a gospel piano introduction
and a wall of soulful horns. Marcia's voice really makes this one feel
oh so right. "When The Mardi Gras Is Over," with its traditional New
Orleans second line beat, was written by backing singer and Austin
regular Shelley King. What a party song --- Professor Longhair would be
rockin' and rollin' with this one if he was still alive!
Ms. Ball continues to prove that the blues doesn't
always have to be sad music, as we hear on the mid-tempo shuffle "Once
In A Lifetime Thing." A real true love is a once in a lifetime thing, so
the listener is encouraged to hold onto that love. Great backing vocals
here. The mid-tempo "Pots And Pans" talks about the folks taking the
party to the street, featuring some mighty fine piano playing by Ms.
Ball and B-3 from Red Young. The latter really shines on the slow blues
"World Full Of Love," a beautiful number with minimal instrumentation
including Marcia's tasteful gospel-ish piano and Mike Schermer
contributing subtle acoustic guitar.
The mid-tempo New Orleans-style "I'm Glad I Did What I
Did" features a group known as the Hot Horns. Yeah, that pretty much
describes these five cats. "Too Much For Me" is a typical Marcia Ball
party stomper. I can visualize her leg kicking back and forth under the
piano at breakneck pace while she pounds away on the ivories. Schermer
kills it partway through with his rockin' guitar solo.
Closing the album is Ms. Ball's ode to Louisiana music,
"Take A Little Louisiana," given a zydeco sound via Robbie Romero's
accordion and sax accompaniment from Berlin and tenor man Eric
Bernhardt. What a hot number to wrap up this great, great album.
I was hooked on Marcia Ball's music the first time I
heard her Soulful Dress album, and my opinion of her music hasn't
waned since then. I can't imagine that there are many Blues Bytes
readers who aren't already tuned in to her music, but if you are among
the few then starting building your Marcia Ball collection now. Shine
Bright is a worthy addition to her vast library of great party
--- Bill Mitchell