Long, tall Marcia Ball kicks off her new album with the title track, "Let Me Play with Your Poodle," a rollicking, double-entendre blues number originated by Tampa Red. In Ball's version, she reinforces the salacious lyrics with a punchy horn section, her own second-line New Orleans piano solo and her own giddy vocal. And Ball doesn't need to dip into blues history for a bawdy song; she proves she can write her own on "The Right Tool for the Job." The rest of the album isn't quite so blunt, but whether she's admitting she "Can't Trust My Heart" or declaring there's "Something I Can't Do," Ball locks her voice and piano parts so firmly into the syncopated Gulf Coast rhythms that there always seems to be a party in full swing on this recording.
The album is dominated by the sights and sounds of Ball's native Louisiana, from the culinary delights of Clarence Garlow's "Crawfishin'" to the ironic history of Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927." Ball is now based in Austin, however, and she is backed by some of the finest blues musicians in Texas, including Clarence Hollimon, who plays guitar on "I'm Just a Prisoner," and Doyle Bramhall, who sings the duet vocal on "How Big a Fool." Ball doesn't possess the strongest voice in the blues world, but few revivalists can match her instinctive grasp of rhythmic phrasing. --Geoffrey Himes
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