12 tracks; 44 minutes.
Tom Hambridge is the producer of choice at the moment for many artists and Tom is in the producer’s seat for Marcia Ball’s latest album which was recorded in Austin, Texas, her sixth for Alligator. Overall it is business as usual as Marcia delivers another outstanding addition to her extensive discography though Tom does seem to have found a way to put Marcia’s excellent piano playing more firmly to the fore than on previous releases.
Marcia wrote eleven of the songs here, two in conjunction with guitarist Michael Schermer, with just one cover. Marcia’s regular road band is featured throughout: Marcia on piano and vocals, Don Bennett on bass, Damien Llanes on drums, Michael Schermer on guitar and Thad Scott on tenor sax. Thad was responsible for the horn arrangements and his sax is augmented by Mark Kazanoff’s baritone on four tracks and by Jimmy Shortell (trumpet) and Randy Zimmerman (trombone) on three tracks. Roscoe Beck plays bass on three tracks, Red Young B-3 on three tracks, Delbert McClinton adds harp to one cut, Terrance Simien plays accordion and harmony vocals and Van Mouton frottoir on one track. Other backing vocalists include Tom Hambridge, Shelley King, Carolyn Wonderland, Amy Helm and Wendy Moten.
The album opens with a circus style piano introduction, appropriate for the title track “The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man”. This song has nothing to do with Bruce Iglauer, CEO of Alligator Records, but recounts the story of two larger than life characters who work in the travelling shows and circuses. “When she was just 18 she got her first tattoo. It was a little green gator with a smiling face, she put that critter in a private place. She said, ‘don’t you know that’s just a start’ – she turned herself into a work of art.”
The song rattles along with the larger horn section and Marcia’s great piano playing and the song gives a good excuse for Marcia and her creative team to have some fun with the artwork of the CD, including a nice picture of Marcia with a full set of tattoos sat alongside her ‘Alligator Man’, relaxing outside their caravan. The horns stay on board for “Clean My House” as Marcia tells us how she loses her blues by cleaning up the place, more strong piano, guitar and sax on this one.
“Just Keep Holding On” is another of those emotional songs that Marcia always handles so well; her tender vocal is backed by gentle horns and Wendy Moten’s discreet harmonies and Thad finds a glorious solo. Marcia sings of the great love in her life, something definitely worth holding on to, in a superb ballad. Another of Marcia’s staples is the party song and “Like There’s No Tomorrow” fits that description very well: “Forget about your troubles, come see us on the double, got a cure for you. Throw your cares away and live for just today, put on your dancing shoes. We came to party like there’s no tomorrow – let’s get it started before the sun goes down.”
The sole cover here is Hank Ballard’s “He’s The One” the twin saxophones of Thad and Kaz, Marcia’s repetitive piano and Mike’s guitar chords harking back to the era of classic rock and roll balladry. Terrance Simien’s accordion propels “The Squeeze Is On” as Marcia returns to Louisiana for inspiration in a catchy tune which includes a fine piano solo.
Michael’s guitar opens “Hot Springs”, an uptempo rocker in which Marcia reveals that she needs to go to Arkansas to rescue her guy from all manner of temptations there! “Human Kindness” is another fine ballad with excellent harmony work from Shelley, Carolyn and Amy and some lovely, warm organ from Red Young: “When we open up our hearts the light comes shining through; human kindness flows and compassion grows”.
The horns sit out the next two tracks: some uptempo boogie piano and Delbert’s harp are at the heart of “Can’t Blame Nobody But Myself” and “Lazy Blues” is very much as the title describes, a gentle late night blues with Marcia’s piano supported by gentle guitar and bass. The horns return in a support role for the fast-paced rocker “Get You A Woman” before Marcia closes the album with another reflective, late night piece: “The Last To Know” has something of a Billie Holiday feel, especially in the jazzy piano and the swell of the expanded horn section. Lyrically we are also in refelctive mood as Marcia wishes “I had seen it coming, you know how I hate to be surprised. And even when it wasn’t great there was still that little something that made me think our sweet love couldn’t die”.
Gentle ballads, rocking Texas roadhouse tunes, New Orleans party music, even jazzy flourishes, Marcia Ball has it all. This excellent album is likely to be a strong contender for recognition in awards and ‘Best Of’ lists and can be strongly recommended to all blues and roots fans.