- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Following a tradition is nothing new in the music world. Most musicians are influenced by the musicians that came before them. Copying a song, borrowing a riff, using someone else’s style is all part of the game.

Two of the most interesting shows in town this week are clearly following musical traditions. Indie band Koufax, at the Black Cat tonight, only looks back as far as 1970s new wave and progressive rock to find the style it builds on. On the other hand, Louisiana piano player Marcia Ball, at State Theatre in Falls Church tomorrow, is following a tradition that goes back generations.

The music Miss Ball and her band will be cranking out on the bandstand is a wonderful mix of styles. When people try to label it, they talk about Texas blues, Louisiana R&B;, and swamp rock.

At any given moment, they might be right, but at the next moment it will change. All of it has an easy, comfortable feel that makes people in the audience nod their heads and tap their feet. After a while, even if there isn’t much room, people will be up moving and dancing.

“I don’t consider myself in any way a true blues artist,” says Miss Ball, even though she has won several W.C. Handy Blues Awards. “I think of The Blues, capital T capital B, as something that came out Mississippi and went to Chicago. I love those guys, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon and all those guys, Koko Taylor and people like that. But I’m less like that than I am like anybody from the Gulf Coast that you can name, from Big Mama Thorton and Albert Collins to Irma Thomas and Professor Longhair.”

Miss Ball was born on the Gulf coast in Orange, Texas, in 1949, and raised just across the state line in Vinton, La., an area that seems to breed music. East Texas and western Louisiana have produced the likes of blues men Lonnie Brooks and Kenny Neal, blues rockers Johnny and Edgar Winter, zydeco’s Queen Ida Guillory, giants of Cajun music the Hackberry Ramblers, and master of all styles, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.

Despite the labels, all these brilliant players have at least dabbled in other styles and changed the way they play as a result. According to Miss Ball, that is all part of the region’s tradition.

“If you’re in California or Kansas City or even up on the East Coast,” Miss Ball says, “you basically find a music that you like, a style, like the West Coast swing or Chicago blues or the Kansas City swing. You pick that out of the air, out of what you’ve been listening to on records, and you go with it — and that becomes your style.”

On the Gulf Coast, things are different.

“The music that’s in the air in Texas and Louisiana is so broad,” continues Miss Ball. “It’s such an incredible hybridization of music. It’s hard to draw a clear distinction between any of the styles.”

What Miss Ball does instead, like Gatemouth or Delbert McClinton or her mentor the late Doug Sahm, is to just play it all and enjoy every minute of it.

• • •

“If there was ever a goal with the band, it was to bring back some sort of intelligent discourse in music and art and politics,” says Robert Suchan, lead singer/guitarist/ songwriter for the indie pop band Koufax. When Koufax hits the stage at the Black Cat tonight in Washington, that’s exactly what the audience will get.

Playing heavily from the band’s latest album, “Hard Times Are In Fashion,” Koufax will offer strong, catchy pop songs that include good hooks and an healthy dose of social commentary.

It may be as obvious as a tongue-in-cheek message about hiding one’s U.S. citizenship while in Europe in “Colour Us Canadian.” It can also be a more general look at a life lived. “Get Us Sober” and “Five Years of Madness” confront addiction and marriage in the catch phrases and choruses of a 3-minute pop and do it very well.

The band admits an obvious debt to 1970s progressive rock bands as Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) and Supertramp and to new wavers like Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson.

“Certain bands like ELO or Supertramp or Joe Jackson, those type of bands, people think we’re making a joke when we say we like those type of bands,” Mr. Suchan says. “The kids are kind of like, ‘Oh, we’re in on the joke with them.’ ”

Actually, Koufax has captured much of the punch and energy that was a big part of those 1970s bands’ hits. There are clear references to Joe Jackson in the keyboards that take center stage on many Koufax songs. And Mr. Suchan ragged angry crooner voice connects him to Mr. Costello and to the sound of 1970s David Bowie.

This is not to say that Koufax is a band trying to recreate the sound of an earlier time. “You don’t want to reinvent the wheel; some things aren’t broken so don’t try to fix them,” Mr. Suchan says.

“But with one foot in the past taking influences, you still want to keep one foot in the present. We’re not some throwback band trying to sound just like ELO or those bands. We’re trying to take influence where influence should be taken, then kind of put your own interpretation on it.”

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