MARCIA BALL

"Live! Down the Road"

Alligator

Like most of her roots-music Americana colleagues, Marcia Ball makes the better part of her income from live shows, not record sales. So it makes perfect sense that her new retrospective album, "Live! Down the Road," is not a collection of old studio tracks but rather a 2004 nightclub recording. Backed by a three-man horn section and her typically tight rhythm section, the singer-pianist takes 76 minutes to stretch out on 14 of her favorite tunes from her 33-year career.

Ball has a whooping soprano that manages to stay on key and in the groove even when it resembles an impromptu holler at a party. She has held her own as a singer on a trio record with Irma Thomas and Tracy Nelson and on another trio record with Lou Ann Barton and Angela Strehli. Strehli makes a guest appearance here to sing a duet on Annie Laurie's 1957 New Orleans hit, "It Hurts to Be in Love."

Ball was born in Texas and lives there now, but she grew up in Louisiana and modeled her bluesy singing and second-line piano playing on New Orleans models. This year she won a W.C. Handy Blues Award for best instrumentalist-keyboards, and "Live! Down the Road" is the best showcase yet for her ability to rattle the ivories with a push-and-pull syncopation, especially on the extended versions of such double-entendre songs as "The Right Tool for the Job" and "Let Me Play With Your Poodle."

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Friday at the State Theatre.

Marcia Ball's live CD expertly captures her talents.