Bentley's Bandstand: Marcia Ball, The Dirty Heads, Patti Smith

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Marcia Ball, Roadside Attractions. If anyone knows what's out there on the those long American highways it's this woman. She hit the Austin music scene running in 1970 and has not stopped since. For the first half-dozen years she was "Freda" in Freda & the Firedogs, doing her duty to help create what unfortunately came to be called cosmic country. It was never clear where the cosmic part came in, except possibly the LSD-induced inspiration of people like Sir Douglas Sahm and some of his running buddies. Either way, Ball stood out of the pack and made those early '70s in central Texas a listener's paradise.
Things changed as the '80s came around and the long-legged piano-playing lady dipped deep back into her Louisiana roots and started making a holy mess of rocking rhythm & blues. What a joy to hear her stretch out on Professor Longhair songs, and dive into the Irma Thomas songbook for divine guidance. No matter that Marcia Ball stood a foot taller than a lot of her contemporaries, because she was always head and shoulders above them in the talent department. She has the touch.
Roadside Attractions might be her best album yet. One good reason is she had a hand in writing all the songs, and boy does she shine there. The stars have come together as she pens some instant classics, including a few co-writes with producer Gary Nicholson that are bayou-certified to make cajuns stomp and alligators chomp. Her band is razor-sharp, honed to a fine edge from endless nights on the bandstand. If there is anyone who knows how to light a fire in front of an audience it is Marcia Ball. Luckily, it sounds like the party is just getting started.
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The Dirty Heads, Any Port in a Storm. The beauty of so much Southern California music is its loopiness. Cities like Los Angeles, San Diego and even Long Beach are about as big a melting pot as it gets, so it's only natural for blues, rock, hip-hop, reggae and Latino styles to get thrown into the blender and whirred to perfection. Every few years one of those groups will jump out of the pack and turn peoples' ears around like, say, Sublime did twenty years ago. Look for the Dirty Heads to be one of those bands. They're that good.
Any Port in a Storm's special edition includes 22 songs and a video download that go a long way in explaining their eclecticism. There is heartfelt rock, down-low hip-hop, infectious reggae and the rascally nastiness of a song called "Taint," and all rub up against each like it's the most natural thing in the world. That's what happens when cultures collide hard enough: they blend into one so easily it's impossible to see the seams.
The Dirty Heads are young men out to conquer the world, and have as much fun as humanly possible while they're doing it. They are no doubt proud to have a parental advisory sticker featured prominently on their album cover, and at the same time play like they're in it for the long haul. When you hear their single "Believe" run down the musical history of where they came from, the love and happiness in their voices makes those California sunsets glow with the big spirit in the sky. Dirty or clean, this quartet are now the Golden State's finest.
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Patti Smith, Outside Society. Reading Patti Smith's recent book Just Kids about her early years as an artist with Robert Mapplethorpe, it's obvious from day one she is destined for greatness. There is such a strength of vision and holy certitude in the way she sees her art, even at a young age, it's only a matter of time before the rest of humanity recognizes those talents. Whether it was going to be poetry, music or conceptual art, there was no way Ms. Smith wasn't getting over. Some are marked for greatness, and then have the courage to risk everything to realize that destiny.
Outside Society is an 18-song collection that covers Patti Smith's entire career after the indie single "Piss Factory," starting with "Gloria." In that reworking of Van Morrison's rock anthem we can hear the young woman's widescreen view in a little under six minutes.

Inspired by poets like Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, she also has at least one foot planted in the cosmos, mixing in Jesus Christ and carnal chasings like they're meant to go together. And that's the beauty of what Smith has accomplished. There is nothing off-limits, allowing her to move from the beauty of the gutter to the pressures of mortality, in the process showing us the sanctity of life.
There has never been anyone like Patti Smith, maybe because she had to invent herself almost out of whole cloth. There were definitely strong influences that went into that creation, but when she added the guitar of Lenny Kaye to her spoken word performances something new was born. There have been those who followed that surely walked in her footsteps, but no one has come close to filling them. Hear why right here.

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Bill Bentley got his first drum set in 1965 and still has it. He's been a deejay, record store clerk, publicist, writer, concert promoter, record producer and a&r director, sometimes all at once. He's worked at KUT-FM, Austin City Limits, L.A. Weekly, Slash Records, Warner Bros. Records and Vanguard…

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