CD Reviews for 09/02/05 – Marcia Ball,Robbie Fulks,Uncle Earle,Sonny Landreth by Dan Ferguson

This week’s Compact Capsules takes a look at some recent recordings from artists who’ll be performing at the annual Rhythm & Roots at Ninigret music festival which takes place this weekend at Ninigret Park in Charlestown. Music on the main stage begins Friday evening at 5 PM and continues until 11 PM. On Saturday and Sunday, main stage music runs from noon until 11 PM each day. Leading the way on performing front is the host band for the weekend Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys who’ll play each day. Other scheduled performers for this year’s festival include Keb’ Mo’ (Saturday), Little Feat (Sunday), Marcia Ball (Saturday), La Bottine Souriante (Sunday), Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie (Friday/Saturday), Donna The Buffalo (Saturday), Sonny Landreth (Sunday), Robbie Fulks (Sunday), Uncle Earl (Saturday/Sunday), Slaid Cleaves (Friday), Leroy Thomas & The Zydeco Roadrunners (Sunday), Asylum Street Spankers (Friday/Saturday), Paul Cebar & The Milwaukeeans (Friday/Saturday), Creole Cowboys (Sunday), April Verch (Friday), The Wilders (Sunday), Magnolia (Saturday/Sunday), the trio of Poullard, Watson & Adams (Friday/Saturday/Sunday), Hot Tamale Brass Band (Saturday/Sunday) and River City Slim & The Zydeco Hogs (Saturday/Sunday). In addition to the main stage, the festival will also feature a family stage, workshop stage, and two dance pavilions (one of which is located in the main stage area), not to mention plenty of tempting regional and ethnic cuisine. New items on the activity menu this year include daily one-hour dance classes for kids, the first ever Rhythm & Roots Film Festival, and something the organizers are calling The Cajun Fiddle Academy for Kids taught by Michelle Kaminsky of the band Magnolia. For tickets or general information, call 1-888-855-6940 or visit the festival web site at

Marcia Ball
Live! Down the Road
Alligator ALCD4903

Whereas she has made some terrific records during her lengthy career, it is the live performance that has had more than anything been responsible for Marcia Ball’s successful run. Fresh off her 2005 W.C. Handy Blues Award for best blues keyboardist comes Ms. Ball’s first live recording. Her twelfth album in all, Live! Down the Road presents the long tall Ball in all her liveliness strutting her talented stuff delivering her signature brand of Texas blues, Louisiana R&B and Gulf Coast swamp pop. Recorded live in the Big Room at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California in 2004, the recording features 14 crowd favorites from that performance. They include “Big Shot”, “La Ti Da”, “That’s Enough Of That Stuff”, “Louella”, “Let Me Play With Your Poodle” and “It Hurts To Be In Love” which features good friend and noted female blues vocalist Angela Strehli joining in the fun. When it comes to Marcia Ball, label Live! Down the Road the next best thing to being there. (Alligator Records, P.O. Box 60234, Chicago, IL 60660, or

Marcia Ball performs at the Rhythm & Roots at Ninigret Festival on Saturday, September 3.

Uncle Earl
She Waits For Night
Rounder 11661-0565-2

There isn’t any uncle and there’s no one named Earl. In fact, Uncle Earl is a five-piece, all-female combo that brings a modern edge to songs in the string band style. She Waits For Night is the name of the 14-track debut from this new group and it is an oft-times spirited romp through a collection of original and traditional tunes that nicely showcase the talents of each of the members of the group from their stellar musicianship to vocals. Featuring guitar, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin with all the ladies taking their respective turns on the lead vocals, She Waits For Night offers a satisfying cross section of songs that span the high energy cover of the old timey classic “Walkin’ In My Sleep” to the timeless ballad “Sugar Babe” to the fiddle tune “Old Bunch of Keys” (with cloggers providing the rhythmic accompaniment) to the a cappella gospel of “Divine”. (Rounder Records, One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140, or

Uncle Earl performs at the Rhythm & Roots at Ninigret Festival on Saturday and Sunday, September 3 and 4.

Robbie Fulks
Georgia Hard
Yep Roc Records YEP-2101

As demonstrated by previous albums like 13 Hillbilly Giants and The Very Best Of, songs from yesteryear hillbilly music mavericks like Jimmy Murphy, Jumpin’ Bill Carlisle, Frankie Miller and Moon Mullican are just as relevant in Robbie Fulks’ world of country music as are works from edgy songwriters such as Shel Silverstein and Roger Miller. Perhaps no project demonstrated Fulks’ respect for the hardcore brand of honky tonk than last year’s superb Johnny Paycheck tribute Touch My Heart (Sugar Hill Records), which he spearheaded. While you won’t find a Silverstein or Miller song on any of Fulks’ six albums, his own songs have always embodied the spirit of those two tunesmiths each of whom could go against the grain as much as with it. It has been four years since Fulks released an album of original material and that longplayer was Couples In Trouble which was a decidedly non-country collection of songs. On the country side of things, one has to go all the way back to 1999’s The Very Best of Robbie Fulks (Bloodshot Records) for an album’s worth of original material. That half-dozen year C&W drought comes to an end with the release of Georgia Hard, an album mired deep in all things country. His first release for upstart indie label Yep Roc Records, the generous 15-song affair finds the Chicago-based talent running the non-commercial country music gamut. Fulks takes the listener from the sweet tones of the radio-ready title track to the hillbilly hijinks of “I’m Gonna Take You Home (And Make You Like Me)” which is a page out of The Carlisles lore and features wife Donna on supporting vocals to the moving balladry of “Coldwater, Tennessee”. From there it’s onto the joyous celebration of “Countrier Than Thou”, the short-stay rate honky tonk bliss of “All You Can Cheat” as well as such similarly-styled barroom jukebox beauties as “Each Night I Try” and “Doin’ Right (For All the Wrong Reasons)” all of which also score big points in this camp. Produced by Fulks, Georgia Hard features a who’s who of players on the supporting end including pedal steel great Lloyd Green who graced many of the late Mr. Paycheck’s classic country sides, mandolin ace Sam Bush, Hank Singer on the fiddle, Allison Brown on banjo, and former Merle Haggard sideman Redd Volkaert on guitar and who Fulks lets step into the spotlight on the next to last track on the album, the country swing instrumental “Right On Redd”. It’s all only icing on the cake to what to these ears is as good as an out-of-the-mainstream country record as you’re likely to encounter. Recommended. (Yep Roc Records, PO Box 4821, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-4821, or

Robbie Fulks performs at the Rhythm & Roots at Ninigret Festival on Sunday, September 4.

Sonny Landreth
Grant Street
Sugar Hill SUG-CD-3992

Head West out of New Orleans on Interstate 10 over the Bayou and the first metropolis you encounter is Baton Rouge. Keep it pegged at 70 mph and 40 minutes or so later you’ll come upon Lafayette. Come the last weekend in April each year in that unofficial capitol of Cajun country, the place to be is the warehouse-turned-honky tonk called Grant Hall. It is a cavernous joint where live music, typically of Louisiana vintage, rules. As he has done for countless years each April typically timing his performance with the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, guitarist Sonny Landreth and his band once again held court this past spring at the cavernous venue. While there’s not a lot of hardcore Cajun per say with the music of Landreth, his distinctive guitar playing and songs pack a hole lot of swamp into their hoodoo grooves. Landreth, who played opening night at Grant Hall in 1980 accompanying the late Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier, gave the place a little payback at his annual appearance in 2004 by capturing the two-night stand on tape for release as a live album. That album, fittingly titled Grant Street, has just recently seen release and offers up 11 of Landreth’s best known songs. It is a collection that showcases just how dynamic a live performer, not to mention guitarist, Mr. Landreth truly is. Along with his band members, Dave Ranson on bass and Kenneth Blevins on drums, this is a trio that is obviously well-schooled in the many sounds that have come from the Bayou country in and around Lafayette. Working elements of everything from blues to Cajun to swamp rock to Zydeco, the sum total is 61 blistering minutes of high energy stuff definitely not for the feint-hearted. (Sugar Hill Records, P.O. Box 55300, Durham, NC 27717, or

Sonny Landreth performs at the Rhythm & Roots at Ninigret Festival on Sunday, September 4.