Lively Shades Of Blues

REVIEW: Renowned swamp rock blues pianist Marcia Ball and her band bring live music back to the Heart of Texas by rocking Clifton's Tin Building Theatre July 10

CLIFTON – After a long time coming, it proved to be worth the wait. Delivering the up tempo, mix of blues styles “Long Tall” Marcia Ball has made her own, the audience responded by toe-tapping, clapping and singing along with gusto. On Saturday evening, July 10 at the Bosque Arts Center Tin Building Theater, Ball transformed a laid back small town venue into a high-spirited Mardi Gras festival.

According to Ball, the concert was an evening of “firsts”– the first time she dressed up and wore heels again, and the first time the five-piece band hit the stage since Feb. 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions hit. Originally planned for March 14, 2020, her Clifton performance was postponed twice because of COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings. All smiles, the band beamed to be back in the saddle again.

It also marked the first time for bass player Michael Archer to be part of the ensemble – he is definitely a keeper. Keeping up with Ball’s hands dancing across the key board, lead guitarist “Mighty Mike” Shermer, saxophone player Eric Berhnardt and drummer Mo Roberts seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly delivered blues with a whole lot of oomph and energy throughout the 22-song set.

For many in the audience, it was a first time they were enjoying a concert again too, making the evening extra special. And even more so when they got to meet Ball and Shermer in person. Spent after the non-stop, whirlwind of a show, Ball still took the time afterwards to autograph CDs, chatting with a long line of doting fans.

A Texas-Louisiana border child, Ball – born in Orange, Texas, growing up in Vinton, Louisiana – musically takes the best of both worlds and mixes them into her signature style of blues. Think Southern soul meets Bayou blues meets NOLA boogie woogie meets rhythmic zydeco, with some Texas grit and rock and roll mixed in. Oh, and some Calypso too.

But without question, the Louisiana influence brings a whole lotta La Ti Da to the songs. Off the charts lively, Ball's music becomes fun and extremely danceable, because her songs are all about a good title, a good time, and good food – not the melancholy, whining “oh woe is me” kind. Even the slower songs are about good stuff, like good lovin’.

Ball mixed in songs from the most recent 2018 album “Shine Bright,” like the title track and “Treat Me Right,” “Take a Little Louisiana,” and “When The Mardi Gras is Over” with older, successful tracks like “Red Beans Cookin’,” and “Don’t You Know,” “Thibodaux, Louisiana,” and one she always seems to play “Louisiana 1927,” which is as relevant today after more recent flooding and hurricanes.

“The title track [Shine Bright] was inspired by something I read a few years ago,” Ball said in an interview with EBX’s J. Poet in Feb. 2020. “I want people to shine bright and to go out and perform random, aggressive acts of goodness. I want folks to be inspired by people who have done good and tried to improve their own lives and the lives of the people around them.”

In the song she named a few of her own heroes Sister Rosetta Parks, Stephen Hawking, Neil Armstrong, Jackie Robinson, Ruth Mayer Ginsberg, Little Richard to name a few.

All the other songs have a message in the lyrics as all good blues songs do; lines that people can relate to wholeheartedly, like:

“Just kiss me baby, that’s all you have to do.”

“We fell hard for each other, like an avalanche from the mountain top.”

“I’ve seen the seven wonders of the world, but I’m still your girl.”

“It’s not the destination, it’s the trip.”

“Everyone wants to know why I love him so.”

“Baby, you’re just too much for me. I can’t keep up.”

“I make sure I have the right tool for the job.”

The evening was dedicated in loving memory to jazz fan, and even bigger Marcia Ball fan, Roger Mitchell. As one of the underwriters of the originally-planned concert, Mitchell sadly passed away last year. Unable to attend in person, his spirit was definitely in the room, ice cubes clinking in his drink, smiling and shimmying to the beat, loving the blues from the realm beyond.

On a fun side note, besides taking the stage with several incredible solos, Shermer sang one of his own creations – the humorous, rolling “Bad Tattoo,” off his 2019 solo album with the same title.

“Oh honey, what are we going to do?

It looks like you and me are through,

Because girl I think I can’t love you, and that bad tattoo.”

It too exemplified what the blues are all about. The thing about the blues classical AAB lyric format to a 12-bar measure is that it’s not complicated and it never gets old. It is as rich and powerful as ever.

Even though the original blues took root in the Deep South of the United States around the 1860s, incorporating spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads from the African-American slaves, it has evolved into many different styles.

Marcia Ball and her band bring their special brand of blues with vigor and joie de vivre. They “laissent les bon temps roulez,” making the blues feel really, really good. Ooooh, come on, baby!


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