John Hammond and Marcia Ball March 1, 2008
By Glen Creason
The full and fiery show, sizzling on the boards of the Performing Arts Center on Saturday night was a perfect example of the beauty of this versatile hall. John Hammond and Marcia Ball, a sort of indefinable pair of roots artists showed off great musicianship and superb taste in songs for a jammed packed two hours before a delighted audience. Hammond and Ball are the consummate veteran professionals whose names are not splashed on billboards nor are their mugs on tabloids but their skills are remarkable and the lessons they teach about great old music are indispensable. Not to be forgotten along with the musicology is the plain fact that they both just rocked the hall and had the chair dancers bopping in sections up and down the theater. The Center has that welcoming glow for such acts that brings the best music out of somewhat unsung artists such as these.
Hammond, who looked and played fantastic for a guy who has been howling out the blues for over forty years offered up an eclectic set featuring many new songs from his latest CD “Push Comes to Shove” that resonated like the gems from yesteryear. “Heartache Blues,” “Take a Fool’s Advise” and “You Know That’s Cold” stood out for this set. The old blues tunes included Jimmy Roger’s “Goin’ Away Baby,” Little Walter’s “Everything Is Going to Be Alright,” and Lightening Slim’s “Mean Old Lonesome Train.” There was also a tribute to the master Mose Allison in “Eyes Behind Your Head” and two perfectly done Tom Waits songs “Buzz Fledderjohn” and “Cold Water” that might have actually improved on the originals. Hammond demonstrated throughout his half that blues played with this kind of dedication and passion will never lose their luster, they just keep on shining when placed in the hands of a master.
Marcia Ball came out meaning business in the second half, picking up on the high energy created by Hammond and roaring through the first six songs in rapid, barrelhouse piano-sweetened succession. “Let’s Have a Natural Ball” “I Got My Red Beans Cookin’,” “Just Kiss Me Baby,” Peace Love and Barbecue” and the ecstatic “Right Back at It” made that howling audience loosen up all the Louisiana music muscles they had. While this is certainly a high energy, good-time show the highlight was probably the one serious song in the set. The emotional ballad “It’s a Miracle” allowed the crowd to get a little introspective and to give room for Ball’s powerfully expressive voice to reach peaks and blues valleys. Only Randy Newman’s towering “Louisiana 1927” slowed down the pulse-rate after that but the party pauses were worth it in spades. The finishing sprint featured lots of feel-good Louisiana material including “Party Town,” “That’s Enough of That Stuff,” “Crawfishin’” “Down the Road” and “Play With Your Poodle.” The blues found their place in a moving “Count the Days” and a funky gutbucket take on “Same Old Blues.” Of course, it is Long Tall Marcia Ball’s flying fingers that wring the maximum out of every tune. Her solo on “Crawfishin’,” had folks in the hall shaking their heads in absolute awe but it was just one of many. Encores flowed, the standing crowd roared and Miss Marcia made her triumphant exit, having proved the wonder of that good old roots music once again.