Marcia Ball at Jim Porter's

By Michael Campbell

For local fans of the blues, it was a bittersweet current that ran through the full house at Jim Porter's on a humid July 13.

Bitter because it began with the final appearance of the Rusty Spoon Blues Band; sweet because the long, tall Marcia Ball and band, rocked the house with her patented New Orleans boogie woogie.

About two years ago, the RSBB made a serious run at the blues big time with the release of Midnight Screams on Scott Mullins' Rollin' & Tumblin' label. Drawing upon blues and soul standards ("Hand Jive," "I Thank You," and "Nobody Knows You," as well as from their own catalog, including the redoubtable "Look At The Head On That," guitarists Dave Witherspoon and Rusty Ends pushed each other to ever stronger intensity, particularly Witherspoon's incendiary assault on "Nobody Knows You." Drummer Danny Kelly and bassist Fred Kaiser provided their consistently solid rhythmic foundation to a set that ended too soon.

A perennial favorite of Louisville music fans, Rounder recording artist Marcia Ball strode onto the stage with an immediate grasp of that distinctive gumbo beat and remained standing, not playing, for almost all of "Good To Me." Her lean, efficient touring band becomes fully realized only when Marcia hits those keys. And when she does, she invokes the irresistible phrasings of Professor Longhair on piano, while conjuring the essence of soul divas Irma Thomas, Etta James and Sugar Pie DeSanto.

Marcia displays keen musical wisdom with her song selection, whether it's the classic "Red Beans Cookin'," her own piano showcase "That's Enough of That Stuff," or the plaintive duet with her drummer on "Why Don't You Change Your Way Of Livin'."

Her piano style is relentless; on "La Dee Da" she keeps attacking the changes without repeating herself, an impressive feat considering the number of notes she plays. Her rendering of "Eugene" illustrates the link between New Orleans R&B and Little Richard-style rock 'n' roll.

Her effect on the crowd is infectious: People who never dance are thrusting themselves around the room with shameless abandon. If, in fact, you were to find yourself sitting still as Marcia pounds it out, with one long leg crossed over the other moving in perfect counterpoint to the band's rhythm, no need to worry: you're probably dead.