Shine on brightly
by arwulf arwulf
From the July, 2018 issue
Marcia Ball's regular touring circuit has included our neck of the woods since 1989, when she won herself a loyal following with a roadhouse-rowdy set at Ypsilanti's Frog Island Music Festival. Striding across the stage to the piano, she struck a chord, greeted her audience with a gruff holler, and turned the band loose on us. Something about performing by the sodden banks of the Huron River seemed to make her feel at home.
Ball was born near the state line between Texas and Louisiana. Her family lived in Vinton, west of Lake Charles; she came into the world at the nearest hospital, in the border town of Orange, Texas. By a curious twist of fate, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown was born in Vinton and raised in Orange. Like Gatemouth, Ball handles a healthy assortment of musical traditions from the Gulf Coast.
Originally a country singer and southern rocker, she has spent much of her career operating under the influence of Professor Longhair and Irma Thomas. New Orleans R&B is her strongest suit, with traces of Cajun and zydeco in the mix, over a rock-solid foundation of barrelhouse, boogie, and blues. Her upbeat goodtime music, which may require a bit of extra kicking room, comes interspersed with bluesy, frankly stated reflections on lessons learned the hard way. She describes these ballads as music for licking your wounds and exorcising personal demons.
In 1970 Ball decided to follow in the footsteps of Janis Joplin by heading for San Francisco. While getting her car serviced in Austin, she realized she liked the town and its people well enough to stick around and put down roots. Decades of gigging, touring, and recording have since established her as a force to be reckoned with.
The experience of playing music for the people of New Orleans while the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina were still receding has left a lasting imprint on her. Speaking with a Living Legends interviewer in 2007, she weighed the importance of
delivering a social message with the responsibility of helping her audience to get out from under the burdens, pressures, and aggravations of their daily lives. "Hope and best wishes for the future; that's the best message I can deliver."
Recent political developments have made her more outspoken than ever. As she recently told the Houston Press, the underlying message of her newly released album, Shine Bright, is that we should perform what she calls "aggressively positive acts for good" and celebrate people who make a difference by refusing to accept ignorance-based hatred. This kind of humanitarianism comes naturally to her. The message is in her lyrics: "We're making history every time we breathe."
Marcia Ball plays the Ark on Monday, July 2.
[Originally published in July, 2018.]
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