BY TOM CALLAHAN
Marcia Ball is a living American musical treasure. Four of her last five albums for Alligator Records have been nominated for Grammy Awards. And her latest–The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man is good enough to bring a fifth nomination. Indeed, if there is any justice in the music business, it will win.
This is Marcia Ball at her best. It is upbeat, joyous and her piano playing is two fisted and driving. In a solo career that started in 1974, Ball has come to embody the best of Southern piano blues. On The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man she displays her fusion of New Orleans R&B, Gulf Coast Blues, Louisiana ballads and even some Tex-Mex zydeco.
And you cannot help but be moved while you are moving. Listen to “Can’t Blame Nobody But Myself” and you hear the brilliant syncopated New Orleans piano style of Professor Longhair. There was only one ‘Fess and there is only one Marcia Ball. And speaking of legends, Ball gets harmonica help on that tune by none other than Delbert McClinton. An album with both Marcia and Delbert on it is an invaluable addition to any collection.
It is impossible to listen to Ball sing without hearing the soul and R&B inspired genius of Irma Thomas. This is true on a Hank Ballard ballad such as “He’s the One” or Ball’s own “Human Kindness.” An added treat here is the rich horn work accompanying her piano on songs like “Clean My House.”
The cover song references another lost Southern tradition—the traveling carnival—which would pitch its midway on the outskirts of town and delight and amaze folks with attractions such as tattooed ladies and alligator men. On this album the roadside attractions get hitched and settle when not on the road into a cozy trailer in “paradise” and “sit by the river where the cool breeze blows.” It sounds like fun, which is the perfect way to describe this album.
Marcia Ball has been the real deal for decades. For both new listeners and longtime fans, The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man is essential music to own.
DOWNLOAD: “Can’t Blame Nobody But Myself” “Hot Springs” “The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man”