If you own a good chunk of Ball’s catalog, there is nothing essential here. If you don’t, it’s a fine introduction.
Marcia Ball is a good-natured blues singer and pianist who has mastered the Louisiana / Texas Gulf Coast traditions of her youth. After more than 40 years and a dozen albums of rollicking music, she seems content with just honing her craft. The good thing is that Ball energizes and amalgamates roots, soul, swamp, blues, and rock traditions into a superb set of a dozen songs. The bad thing is that she has done this before—and this record varies little from her other excellent discs. Consistency may be a virtue to some, but Ball is so freaking good that you wish she would stretch more.
That may seem ungrateful. The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man showcases Ball’s many musical talents. She goes from silly, as in the carnivalesque title tune, to serious, as she does on the rueful lament to lost love “The Last to Know". And even does both sometimes in the same song such as the ode to financial difficulties “The Squeeze is On” that features Terence Simien on accordion (squeeze box—get it?) or “Hot Spring” that plays on the many meanings of the word “hot.” Ball covers a lot of musical territory and does it well.
However, she’s done this all before. This differs little from her previous efforts. Her voice is strong, even when singing about vulnerable characters or the need to be compassionate to others. She passionately plays the piano and never misses a bear or plays a bad note. Those new to Ball will rave and wonder why they never heard of her before. But she is already a legend to those familiar with the genre. Experienced listeners may want something more.
Let’s put it this way. There comes a time in a music listener’s life when one wonders, do I really need another album by “Blank”, even though I am a big fan of “Blank” and the new record has received positive reviews. “Blank” could be anybody from B.B. King to Elvis Costello to Bruce Springsteen (fill in your own choice for “Blank”). Well, if you own a good chunk of Ball’s catalog, there is nothing essential here. If you don’t, it’s a fine introduction.
So newbies, come and bask in the glory of “Human Kindness” that tackles our mutual fears and dreams; boogie woogie to the beat of “Can’t Blame Nobody But Myself”; indulge yourself in the “Lazy Blues”, etc. One could easily go song by song here and find lots to admire in each one. There’s not a dud in the bunch.
But as Ball herself sings in “Just Keep Holding On”, sometimes holding on can be less of an asset than moving on. While she sings the merits of sticking together, the blues in her voice reveals that she knows there must be more to life and to love. She’s melancholy rather than celebratory at the state of affairs. That’s how it is with The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man. It’s a solid Marcia Ball record. Yay! Ho-hum.