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Posted: April 08, 2011

Marcia Ball’s “Roadside Attractions” is a wild ride

Plus Billy Joel closes Shea Stadium; Ray Charles' live disc rescued from the vaults

Mike Cote

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MARCIA BALL Roadside Attractions (Alligator)

Marcia Ball just keeps getting better with age. On her 12th album, the singer and piano player delivers the first collection of her career devoted to entirely to songs she either wrote or co-wrote. Steeped in her Texas and Louisiana roots and the rhythms of the eternal touring musician, Roadside Attractions takes you on a journey of joy and good times, heartbreak and betrayal, love won and love lost.

Ball makes for a fine roadside companion, whether she's celebrating the strength of human connections (the gospel powerhouse "That's How It Goes"), contemplating her nomadic existence ("Between Here and Kingdom Come"), portraying the other woman whose lover returns to her husband ("I Heard It All") or digging into New Orleans-style revelry ("Sugar Boogie," "The Party is Still Going On.")

Catch Marcia Ball this summer when she returns to Colorado for three shows: The Vail Jazz Festival (Aug. 11); the Louisville Street Faire (Aug. 12) and the Pearl Street Blues Festival, in Denver (Aug. 13).

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BILLY JOEL Live at Shea Stadium: The Concert (Columbia/Legacy)

If even touring partner Elton John can't persuade Billy Joel to write new songs, don't hold out hope for the Piano Man to bring fresh material to the table. But Joel continues to excel as a touring artist. Live at Shea Stadium: The Concert was recorded on July 16 and 18, 2008, to mark the final performance before the historic stadium was torn down.

Joel is fine form throughout, offering the 110,000 plus fans a strong sampling of hits ("My Life," "She's Always a Woman," "You May Be Right") and classics culled from his albums ("Captain Jack," "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," "Zanzibar").

The CD/DVD set features a diverse mix of A-list guests: Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks, John Mayer, Steven Tyler, Roger Daltry, John Mellencamp - and most famously, Paul McCartney, who helps Joel celebrate the demise of the venue the Beatles made famous on "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Let it Be."

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RAY CHARLES Live in Concert and Rare Genius (Concord)

It's hard to believe this 1964 Ray Charles performance has never been released on CD. Though only a modest seller after its initial release (it climbed to No. 80 on the Billboard album chart), it features Charles at the height of his powers backing a big band that deftly handles his blend of jazz, R&B and country.

The original Live in Concert set list is expanded here by seven tracks, including previously unreleased versions of the jazz instrumental "One Mint Julep" and the country song that would forever be associated with Charles, "Georgia on My Mind." Among the highlights of the original disc is a pair of Charles' biggest hits of the era: "I Got a Woman" and "What'd I Say." Vintage soul that sounds just as powerful as it did nearly 50 years ago.

Rare Genius, released late last year, is a compilation of previously unreleased Charles recordings rescued from the vaults. That it includes just 10 tracks underscores the care that went into selecting this material, which includes a fine duet with Johnny Cash on "Why Me, Lord?"

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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