Marcia Ball: Roadside Attractions

Ball is the real deal: equal parts New Orleans, boogie woogie, swamp music, and Texas soul all wrapped up into one package.

Marcia Ball

Roadise Attractions

Label: Alligator
US Release Date: 2011-03-29
UK Release Date: 2011-03-28

Few things in life are as reliable as a Marcia Ball performance. For more than four decades, the Louisiana-by-way-of-Texas musician has magnificently played piano and sang her way through the blues with incredible amounts of heart and soul. Ball is the real deal: equal parts New Orleans, boogie woogie, swamp music, and Texas soul all wrapped up into one package. Her new album shows that she’s also an incredible songwriter.

Roadside Attractions marks the first time Ball has either written or co-written every cut on an album. The high quality and variety of songs presented here reveal Ball’s gifted ability to create catchy licks and her talents as a first–rate observer of life. There are party songs mixed with ones that make you think, danceable beats and reflective rhythms. The tracks flow into each other to create a mighty musical force. While every song is good, the album as a whole is greater than a sum of its parts.

Ball’s use of Cajun and Delta musical styles evoke the sense of being part of a watery biosphere, especially in terms of her lively right hand prancing on the piano keys, but perhaps a better metaphor for her music would be the one she uses as her title song. The tune “Roadside Attraction” cleverly describes being on the road home, suffering no distractions, on the way back to the one she loves. “I’ve seen the Corn Palace, the fair in Dallas / The drive through the Redwood tree, a giant Strawberry / That tower in Paree and a two-ton ball of string…. / But I’m coming home just as fast as I can,” she sings with a pulsating voice while plunking keys energetically; she progresses with increased excitement, nearing her destination.

Going home; Ball sings about her roots on several songs. On “Between Here and Kingdom Come”, she poignantly reminiscences about her old homestead. The song may or may not be autobiographically accurate, but her longing for the innocence of the past rings true. Ball’s voice aches with pleasure, the kind one gets when yearning for a better time and a better self. She continues in this vein later on “This Used to Be Paradise”, where she sings about her Cajun fisherman grandfather and the encroachment of the oil companies on his fishing grounds. Paradise was a place where the fish used to jump in your boat. Now the wildlife is barely hanging on.

There may be something preachy in Ball’s ballads, but her piano playing always keeps things moving and her voice ever-infectiously appealing. She knows how to tell a story with music. And that’s not all. When she turns up the tempo, she makes one forget what they were thinking about, allowing them to just have a good time. The western swing beat of “Sugar Boogie” moves at a tempo fast enough to leave listeners tapping their feet. And she can get low down in the Texas blues. She compellingly moans about the stubbornness of her man on “Mule Headed Man” -- good thing he knows how to make love to her.

After all these years, Ball continues to crank out top-notch blues. This time, she does not have to cover tunes by any of the old past masters but one — herself.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.