If the blues aren't supposed to be fun, somebody forgot to tell Marcia Ball.
The singer transplanted the spirit of Mardi Gras to Red Butte Garden Tuesday night for what amounted to a three-hour, 26-song performance fit more for the sweatiest, loudest, rockingest Texas roadhouse or Bayou dance hall.
From the opening romp of "Rockin' Is My Business" to the closing number, "Count the Days," Ball seldom slowed the tempo for herself or the crowd.
Drawing heavily from the influences of her Louisiana youth, Ball's musical gumbo was heavily spiced with hearty elements of Cajun, rock-a-billy, Dixieland jazz and, of course, Delta blues. All of it, however, was made unique by her Southern belle voice and especially her rollicking, barroom piano stylings.
The crowd, although much more sparse than at many Red Butte shows, quickly embraced Ball. Early on, she received multiple standing applauses, and eventually, after minimal pleading from the singer, stayed up and succumbed to the dancing that the music practically demanded.
Lyrically, Ball's songs, about half of which are written by her, stay light and comical, including those that deal with such weighty subjects as failed marriages and broken hearts. On songs such as "Foreclose on the House of Love," in which she sang, "You said you were a hen-pecked husband/And my paycheck was thin /I came home a little early/And you were pecking another hen," she proved the importance of smiling or better yet, dancing through even the hardest of times.
Other times, she simply raised a ruckus about such seemingly mundane song topics as cooking ("Redbeans"), gossip queens ("Louella") and Bayou recreation ("Crawfishin' "). She also kept the mood light, chatting with the crowd about whether she had worn the same skirt during her last visit to Salt Lake City, and even dedicating a song to Mayor Rocky Anderson, a friend-of-a-friend, in "Hey, Big Shot."
While Ball, who primarily sat cross-legged at her piano, was the star attraction, her vocals and piano work were well-complemented by her very capable band, and she often traded musical licks with guitarist Pat Boyack and drummer Corey Keller. Additionally, saxophonist Brad Andrew gave a different edge to her live music, especially songs from her new album, "So Many Rivers," which he was not part of recording.
From simply an artistic and entertainment standpoint, Ball delivered a memorable show that undoubtedly won her new listeners and reinforced the love of established fans. Add to the performance quality, however, that she started promptly at 7 p.m. and played until after 10 p.m., with only one 30- minute intermission and that tickets were less than $20 and she gave Red Butte one of the most enjoyable bargain nights that Salt Lakers may see this summer.
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