A stalwart specialist in Gulf Coast blues/R&B/zydeco, Marcia Ball is already familiar to Texas audiences for her clear-toned vocals and pounding piano — the imaginary musical daughter of Irma Thomas and Professor Longhair. And though she rarely deviates from her formula of mixing let-the-good-times-roll romps with plaintively romantic torch songs, she usually finds strength in that combination. Her music has long been a soundtrack for a lifestyle.
Still, this latest collection is a definite step down from recent efforts like Presumed Innocent and So Many Rivers for that very same reason: Marcia Ball is flirting — even dry-humping — with blandness. From the generic sounds and cookie cutter lyrics of "Party Town" (an affectionate if trite tribute to N'awlins), to the slow-paced tent revival tale of "Miracle in Knoxville," to the maudlin hurricane remembrance of "Ride It Out," it's just not Ball at her best. Even a duet with Dr. John on "I'll Never Be Free" sounds like the good physician of voodoo gris-gris is about to fall asleep. (Even by his occasionally narcoleptic standards.)
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Not that there are no bright spots — the second-line feel and sax/guitar greatness of "Watermelon Time," the character sketch "Right Back In It" and the emotional ballad "Falling Back in Love With You" are all highlights. Unfortunately, Peace, Love & BBQ finds a Texas favorite in a bit of a creative rut, though most of her faithful fans won't necessarily know the difference. Time for that Freda & the Firedogs reunion album!