Always more in demand on the road than at home, pianist Marcia Ball has developed into one of the most dynamic and dependable performers in Texas. A native of Orange and a resident of Austin for nearly three decades, she has that infectious Gulf Coast rhythm and blues gumbo down hot. But to her it’s still a living, breathing thing, continually evolving in the roadhouses and nightclubs. It shows on her ninth album, Presumed Innocent. Her curling, skittering Professor Longhair piano pedigree is undeniable on romps like the Cajun-flavored “Louella” and “Thibodaux, Louisiana,” and the Houston-to-New-Orleans ballad “I’m Coming Down With the Blues” is humid and swampy. She’s as effective on a TGIF whoop like “Shake a Leg” as she is on a moody, two-in-the-morning cocktail blues number like “She’s So Innocent” or a heart-to-heart like “Fly on the Wall.” She’s no regional purist however. The opening “Scene of the Crime” has a Chicago-blues flavor courtesy of Gary Primich’s harmonica, and weary, churchy ballads like “Let the Tears Roll Down” and “I Have the Right to Know” insinuate a Memphis feel. Ball sings them all with an energy and a conviction that can transform the tritest of lyrics. And though she has mastered one of America’s most difficult indigenous piano styles, she never flaunts it; for a front woman, she takes surprisingly few solos and knows when to recede while a sideman shines. Presumed Innocent ends with the saucy “You Make Me Happy,” the kind of carnival sound always popular around Mardi Gras time because it keeps the dance floor shaking and the bartender earning his tips. Ball proves once again that under the right leadership, bar bands still rule. by John Morthland
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