Marcia Ball – Roadside Attractions

January 01, 1970



Marcia Ball has been on the road for over 30 years and in
that time she has established her reputation as one of the greatest piano
players in blues history. Whether it is the second line rhythms of New Orleans
or Texas jump blues or the swampy ballads of South Louisiana, Ball manages to incorporate
them all in her playing. Ball’s music reflects her heroes: the rambunctious piano
playing of Professor Longhair and the soulful vocals of Irma Thomas.


Roadside Attractions is
her 12th album and 5th for Alligator. Ball calls it her
“most personal album yet.” It is also one of her best. It is her first album
where all the songs are either written or co-written by Ball; eight are solely
her own; the rest co-written with either Dan Penn, Gary Nicholson or Tom
Hambridge. What is amazing about this album is that Ball has managed to capture
the life, joy and sorrow of the South. Listening to this album it is possible
to imagine these songs being played live in any roadhouse from New Orleans to
Lake Charles to Port Arthur.


The upbeat songs, like “Roadside Attractions”, conjures up
drinking and dancing in a Texas juke joint on a Saturday night as the song celebrates
eternal life on the road. And then you can’t help but move your feet to the
infectious New Orleans sound of a song like “We Fell Hard.” The song Ball wrote
with Penn and Nicholson, “Look Before You Leap” swings with horns and a guitar
sound reminiscent of the great Texas guitarist, Long John Hunter.


Ball is a great piano player but one of the things that makes
her a great artist is that she does not let her piano playing overwhelm her
songs or emotive voice. Take a ballad like “Between Here and Kingdom Come.” This
is a poignant celebration of small town life complete with mandolin and slide
guitar. But the instrumentation never intrudes or distracts from Ball’s soulful,
sincere vocals.


But without a doubt, the highlight of this album, perhaps
the greatest song Ball has ever written or recorded, is a song Ball wrote
herself called “This Used To Be Paradise.” When journalism does not work
anymore, art must fill the void. A year after BP caused the greatest oil spill
in human history in the Gulf of Mexico, the news cycle has rolled on and people
forget. Ball reminds us that real people, not statistics, have been dealing
with Big Oil down there for decades and the same corporate greed that caused
the spill is gradually destroying them and their way of life.


Ball sings: “Then one day the oilman came. He gave us jobs
and everything changed. We still run our boats and we drag our nets but every
day we get less and less and less. I guess you can’t stop the way that time
goes by. And I can’t think of any reason why they had to come and take our way
of life. Now we don’t know if we can even survive. They took the very land that
our house was on and the shrimp and the pelican they just hanging on. It’s a
damn shame to make an old man cry. This used to be paradise. This used to be
paradise. This used to be paradise.”


This song is sad and slow and complete with a Louisiana
accordion accompanying it. Ball captures perfectly the destruction of the
wetlands of South Louisiana and a corporate attitude that puts greed before not
only the environment but human beings as well.


Roadside Attractions is
a fun album to party to, but it is also an album that will give you something
to think about as well. Marcia Ball is a great artist. This is one of the best
albums of 2011.


Used To Be Paradises” “Roadside Attractions” “Between Here and Kingdom Come” “Mule
headed Man” TOM CALLAHAN 








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