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Bayou Blues

The good times roll through when two Louisiana-rooted performers hit town.

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“It’s an incredibly rich heritage,” Ball says from her home in Austin, Texas. “Fortunately and coincidentally, it’s very popular right now.” Ball, one of the queens of New Orleans rhythm and blues, who has performed steadily since the early 1970s, is enjoying some rare time off the road. She interrupts her potting of plants in her yard and wrestling with her “jaws-of-iron” Australian shepherd to talk for a bit.

“Cajun, Zydeco, R&B and blues, that’s the music of our life,” she says. “The latest record carries it into the future. That’s what was attractive about making it.”

Ball refers to last year’s “So Many Rivers,” a project that has won her three W.C. Handy blues award nominations. Win or lose, however, Ball cannot attend the annual Memphis Handy event in April this year because she has a conflicting New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival booking. This sort of up-side, down-side problem is not a new one these days for the Louisiana-bred pianist-singer-songwriter.

As some here can attest, Ball doesn’t play Richmond nearly as often as she did when her career was blossoming in the early 1990s. The small clubs here are too limited, and larger theater venues don’t fit her jump-and-go style. The show at Tredegar Iron Works Thursday will give fans a chance to see her in a whole new setting. Apparently, this happens when you start winning well-deserved awards, playing for presidents and traveling the world.

“It’s happening in quite a few towns,” she says. “It’s not just Richmond.”

Tab Benoit has not been at it as long as Ball, but he’s hitting his stride these days. Benoit recently teamed with Jimmy Thackery for the critically acclaimed “Whiskey Store” CD. He’s receiving kudos from the blues community for his south Louisiana-flavored guitar riffs, and he mentions both Guitar Slim and Earl King as favorites. The self-taught guitar player also works through his Voice of the Wetlands group to fight erosion problems in the bayous. For Benoit, preserving the music, the land and the let-the-good-times roll traditions of the area are all of a piece.

“We do have this culture and heritage unique to the world. … It kind of sums up everything that we’re about,” Benoit says from his home in Houma, La. “It’s the music for the people. Everybody that lives around here has a root in some of it. Something, somewhere.”

Benoit takes his share of these roots to create a spontaneous brand of blues that rejects rote performances or recordings.

“I just feel like blues and roots music especially should be captured in the moment. That’s when it’s best. … Music communicates on a soulful level. It doesn’t go to your head. It goes straight to the heart.” S

The Marcia Ball Band plays the Tredegar Iron Works Gun Foundry Building, 500 Tredegar St., Thursday, April 15. Showtime is 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 and available through 794-6700 or TicketsToBuy.com. All net proceeds benefit Good Shepherd Episcopal School. For more information call 314-1914.

Tab Benoit plays Arthur’s at the Inn of Virginia, 5215 W. Broad St., Friday, April 16, at 8:30 p.m. Advance tickets at Plan 9 or Arthur’s are $10. Door tickets are $12.


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