March 29, 2011
"Based in Austin and steeped in New Orleans, Marcia Ball plumbs the richness of both musical meccas. From rootsy swamp pop and blues-drenched boogie woogie to languid ballads, Ball is equally comfortable with brash roadhouse romps and caressing love songs." - USA Today
MARCIA BALL IS A WOMAN WITH A REPUTATION. The Texas-born, Louisiana-raised pianist / vocalist / songwriter is famed worldwide for igniting a full-scale roadhouse rhythm and blues party every time she strolls on stage. Ball's groove-laden New Orleans boogie and rollicking Gulf Coast blues have made her a one-of-a-kind favorite with music fans all over the world. But she's also a master at transfixing her audience with an emotionally rich, passionately sung ballad. The Boston Herald says, "Ball plays masterful, red hot tracks from the Texas-Louisiana border. Her voice can break your heart with a ballad or break your back with a rocker." On her new CD, Roadside Attractions (her 15th solo recording), Ball's songwriting is at the forefront, ranging from tales of wild parties to stories of twisted motel affairs to declarations of the enduring power of love and family. It is inspired by her years on the road and from insights gained from everyday life, making it her most autobiographical album. Roadside Attractions is certainly more than capable of starting a no-holds-barred bash. But endless talent, and among the most emotionally moving recordings she has ever made.
Recorded by famed songwriter, musician and producer Gary Nicholson (Delbert McClinton, Wynonna Judd, T. Graham Brown), Roadside Attractions finds Marcia Ball at a creative peak. Ball wrote or co-wrote every song - something she had never done over the course of her forty-year career. Throughout the proceedings, her stellar musicians add power and nuance to the music, perfectly complementing Ball's expert piano playing, slice-of-life lyrics and melodic, storytelling vocals.
According to Ball the new CD is the one she was born to make. "Roadside Attractions is my most personal album yet. It's full of short stories and tall tales. Not every word is true, but close enough. The songs reflect forty years of travel and a lifetime of experiences. Writing with Gary Nicholson, Dan Penn and Tom Hambridge was a thrill I've waited a long time for. So off we go, touring the cosmos, weaving and lurching, distracted by every concrete dinosaur and giant strawberry along the way. It's a great life set to music."
Ball's musical life with the Alligator Records family began in 2001 (She also joined the roster of the influential Rosebud booking agency that same year) with the release of the critically acclaimed Presumed Innocent. The CD took home the 2002 Blues Music Award for Blues Album Of The Year. Her follow-up, So Many Rivers, was nominated for a Grammy Award, and won the 2004 Blues Music Award for Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year as well as the coveted Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year award. Her next release, Live! Down The Road, released in 2005, also garnered a Grammy nomination, as did 2008's Peace, Love & BBQ (the album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart). In 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009, the Blues Music Awards honored Ball as the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player Of The Year. In addition she won two Living Blues Awards in 2009. In 2010 she was inducted into the Gulf Coast Music Hall Of Fame.
Born in Orange, Texas in 1949 to a family whose female members all played piano, Ball grew up in the small town of Vinton, Louisiana, right across the border from Texas. She began taking piano lessons at age five, playing old Tin Pan Alley tunes from her grandmother's collection. From her aunt, Marcia heard more modern and popular music. But it wasn't until she was 13 that Marcia discovered the power of soul music. One day in 1962, she sat amazed while Irma Thomas delivered the most spirited performance the young teenager had ever seen. According to Ball, "She just blew my own band, the first stuff I was doing was Irma's." In 1966, she attended Louisiana State University, where she played some of her very first gigs with a blues-based rock band called Gum.
In 1970, Ball set out for San Francisco. Her car broke down in Austin, and while waiting for repairs she fell in love with the city and decided to stay. It wasn't long before she was performing in the city's clubs with a progressive country band called Freda And The Firedogs, while beginning to perfect her songwriting skills. It was around this time that she delved deeply into the music of the great New Orleans piano players, especially Professor Longhair. "Once I found out about Professor Longhair," recalls Ball, "I knew I had found my direction."
When the band broke up in 1974, Marcia launched her solo career, signing to Capitol Records and debuting with the country-rock album Circuit Queen in 1978. Discovering and honing her own sound, she released six critically acclaimed titles on the Rounder label during the 1980s and 1990s. In Barton - recorded the hugely successful Dreams Come True on the Antone's label. At the end of 1997, Marcia finished work on a similar "three divas of the blues" project for Rounder, this time in the distinguished company of Tracy Nelson and her longitme inspiration, Irma Thomas. The CD Sing It! was released in 1998 and was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 1999, Marcia and her band appeard in the nationally televised Public Television special In Performance At The White House along with B.B. King and Della Reese. Her recordings and performances received glowing reviews in major music publications, and Marcia was featured on leading television and radio programs, including Austin City Limits and NPR's Fresh Air and Piano Jazz.
Since the release of her Alligator debut Presumed Innocent in 2001, Ball has received more popular and critical acclaim than ever before. 2003's So Many Rivers continued the push forward, with Billboard declaring, "Ball is a consummate pro - a killer pianist, a great singer and songwriter. Powerful. Righteous." 2005's Live! Down The Road received equally impressive praise. The New Orleans Times-Picayune said simply, "Bayou boogie has a queen and her name is Marcia Ball." Billboard said, "Peace, Love & BBQ is a welcome ray of sunshine. This is a potent batch of tunes, highlighted by Ball's keyboard mastery."
Over the last few years, Ball has been the subject of feature stories in many national publications, including USA Today, Keyboard, DownBeat, Billboard, and in newspapers from coast to coast. She has twice performed on A Prairie Home Companion, appeared on World Café and Whad'Ya Know?, Public Radio International's Studio 360, as well as on XM / Sirius satellite radio. Ball has appeard on the covers of The Austin Chronicle as well as Blues Revue magazine and performed in Piano Blues, the film directed by Clint Eastwood included in Martin Scorsese's The Blues series which aired on PBS television nationwide in 2003. Marcia has also appeared on Austin City Limits and The Late Show With David Letterman with The New Orleans Social Club, where she not only reached millions of people, she helped to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Living the life she loves, Marcia has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. "Forty years of roadside attractions and the life of roaming ‘round has never worn thin," she proudly says. "I love it when the wheels start rolling, when the band starts playing, when the crowds start dancing." Now, with Roadside Attractions and a long list of high profile tour dates, Ball will bring her blend of Texas roadhouse boogie and Louisiana swamp blues to fans around the globe. "What's not to love about Marcia Ball?" asked The Austin Chronicle. "Scrumptious, Southern-fried boogies, blues, and ballads with the infectious street beat of New Orleans at the core." Clearly, in whatever city she performs or wherever her songs play, there is no better roadside attraction than the foot-stomping, soul-stirring music of the great Marcia Ball.