CD Reviews: Marcia Ball, Santogold
May 8, 2008
Marcia Ball, “Peace, Love & BBQ” (Alligator Records)
Everybody can use a little more peace, love, barbecue and Marcia Ball.
Since leaving the night news desk a couple of years ago, I’ve taken full advantage of a day schedule, barbecuing in the late afternoon sun on most summer nights. In that time, I’ve also been able to see Marcia Ball three times at the Crystal Bay Casino.
Ball plays a rare mixture of boogie-woogie piano and traditional blues flavored in Louisiana Cajun style and lyrics. Her shows are straight-up dance parties, and the recent sellout Tahoe event proves that even 2,000 miles away from her base of Austin, Texas, music fans know she is not an artist to be missed.
With 11 albums since leaving the country group Freda and Firedogs, Ball has a vast library of songs to offer. She has the ability to get audiences off their feet and smiling, while occasionally going into an emotional ballad like “Louisiana.” The cliche “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry,” really applies here.
But Ball isn’t content with her body of work. She keeps putting out a studio album every few years, and every time she does, it will win a Blues Music Award and usually a Grammy nomination. (Her not winning a Grammy indicates what a joke that award can be, case in point: Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale’s so-called “2008 Best Contemporary Blues Album.”)
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Winning over a crowd seems to come easily to Ball, who said songwriting is the most rewarding part of her work. Ball wrote eight of the 13 tracks on her new album, “Peace, Love & BBQ.” She told me it was one of the more difficult albums she’s sequenced. But it sure works.
You start out jumping to your feet on the opening “Party Town,” which, of course, is New Orleans. Then you travel though myriad musical places, a barbecue with all your friends, a tent revival show, a waltz with Dr. John, and a house that floats on the Gulf, courtesy of the album’s ubiquitous character, Katrina. It concludes appropriately with “I Wish You Well.” The feeling’s mutual, Marcia.
Check this out: “Miracle in Knoxville” is the first track to catch radio’s attention. The style of this song is out of character for Ball; it sounds like something Dusty Springfield might sing. Ball’s humor comes at the expense of a hypocritical preacher. Even funnier is “Married Life,” which serves as a reminder to wedding-bachelor-bachelorette parties to come to a Ball show with a sense of humor.
Hearing Ball’s live version of Randy Newman’s “Louisiana” put a lump in my throat. She answers that tune with two of her own: “Where Do You Go When You Can’t Go Home” is not just about Katrina. It’s more of an overall portrait of poverty and homelessness. And while “Louisiana” was about a community’s sorrow, “Ride It Out” is about its strength and ability to persevere.
Marcia’s pal Mac Rebennack helps out in the duet “I’ll never be Free,” which is sort of a bluesy, waltzed-up take on Ball’s previous “Just Kiss Me.”
Up until now, Ball used a different producer on each of her albums. This time she worked with Steven Bruton, who also produced 2003’s “So Many Rivers.” More collaboration between the two was a good idea. And of course we can always go for more “Peace, Love & BBQ.”
” Tim Parsons, Lake Tahoe Action
“L.E.S. Artistes” (single), Santogold
So far, I have yet to see a single review of Santogold or her self-titled debut album that hasn’t referenced British-Sri Lankan hip-hop it-girl M.I.A.
So I’m hardly alone, as this of her debut single, “L.E.S. Artistes” (available as a free download on iTunes) won’t either. That’s not so much because the single sounds like M.I.A. as much as it leads me to believe that both artists might draw from a similarly clever and diverse grab bag of influences.
“L.E.S. Artistes” didn’t really reach out and grab me by the ear, but then again, M.I.A. didn’t at first, either. Rather, Santogold’s single was catchy but slippery, which made me wonder what else she has in her bag of tricks.
” Dan Thomas, Lake Tahoe Action