Damn, if it’s hard to be hopeful these days. So who would have thought a blues musician could be so exuberant and optimistic? The Texas-born, Louisiana-raised singer, songwriter, and pounder of the piano keys Marcia Ball has always looked on the sunny side of life, but her version of the good-time blues has never felt more needed than today. Ball’s no Pollyanna. She understands that life is hard for many. However, that’s no reason not to celebrate one’s existence and find gusto in food, drink, and music—not to mention playing dominoes.
Okay, so maybe that domino reference is a Southern thing. The point is that if one can’t change the world, one can at least change one’s attitude. And who’s to say one can’t change the world? Ball namechecks a litany of past inspirational figures from a variety of fields, from Neil Armstrong to Jackie Robinson to Ken Kesey to Irma Thomas to Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Little Richard to Susan B. Anthony and celebrates them for their achievements.
And Ball doesn’t mean one should let others shoulder the burden and ignore the ills of the world while we party. She explicitly issues a call to action on “Pots and Pans” (dedicated to the late Lone Star political pundit Molly Ivins) and tells her audiences to fight for human rights and take it to the streets. Clamoring for what is noble and decent is necessary. But that doesn’t mean one can’t have a good time doing so. Kindness and mercy are its own reward.
Ball delivers her messages with a delicious Gulf coast musical gumbo of sound. Her barrelhouse piano playing makes one hungry for the tasty stew. One can’t help but think of the region’s food while she provides the soundtrack for the meal. Her voice drips with the flavor of the region’s juke joints and cantinas—pass the hot sauce, please! Ball wrote eight of the album’s dozen tracks and the three covers that include Jesse Winchester’s “Take a Little Louisiana” and Shelley King’s “When the Mardi Gras is Over” fit right in. The album was recorded both in Louisiana and Texas and bears the hallmarks of both places in its style and substance. It was produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, who also adds his baritone sax touches to several cuts.
On the title track, Ball proclaims “We’re making history every time we breathe…. Life’s a story play a part”. The 69-year-old Ball has been making music professionally for over 50 years. She understands how quickly time passes by and how one needs to take action, whether it’s being a good friend, falling in love, creating art, taking a stand, or just having fun. It’s too easy just to let things slide. Shine Bright is the kind of record that makes one want to reach out to others, to take off one’s headphones and listen to the people in the street, look at what’s happening on the flyers on the kiosks, try that restaurant that always has a line of smiling people waiting outside the door, and just do something one has been putting off for too long. It’s a kick in the butt, in a sexy sort of way.