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David Ball
Freewheeler

Review By Steven Stone
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CD Number: Sugar Hill Records SUG-CD-3993 

 

  David Ball has the talent to be a huge star, yet he seems content to fly underneath Nashville's star-maker machinery's radar. His first song, "Don't You Think I Feel It Too," was originally recorded by Jessie Colter, and then later by Shawn Colvin and Lyle Lovett.  His first band "Uncle Walt's Band" teamed Ball with high-school chums Walter Hyatt and Champ Hood. They influenced a generation of roots songwriters including Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Nanci Griffith, and Shawn Colvin. His solo career began in 1994 with the disc Thinkin' Problem, which spawned three number one country music hits. Ball toured with Alan Jackson and Dwight Yoakum, but a record label reorganization quashed his climb to the top of the country music molehill.  Ball regrouped and joined the growing ranks of musicians forced to eschew major companies in favor of smaller indie labels.

This all brings us to Freewheeler, which showcases David Ball's stellar performing skills as well as his songwriting abilities. Along with five Ball originals are four tunes by producer Wood Newton, one by John Wiggins, one from Danny Baker, and the Jessie Winchester title cut "Freewheeler."  Sidemen on Freewheeler include Billy Panda on electric and acoustic guitar, Dan Drizsell on bass, Kenny Malone on drums, Mike Johnson on dobro and steel guitar, Jeff Taylor and Mike Rojas on piano, and Russell Terrell, Wood Newton, and Kim Morrison of harmony vocals.

Although the airwaves devote plenty of space to new country and hot country, they have little room for adult country, which best describes Ball's music. Tales of young impetuosity give way to stories of older regret. Instead of lyrics about young love and hot bodies Ball treats us to narratives such as one about temptation in an airline bar titled "I'm Happy With the One I've Got." Arrangements also harken back to more classic country, with piano, steel guitars, dobros, and fiddles taking the forefront rather than Gibson Les Pauls heard through Mesa Boogies set to stun.

The sonics on Freewheeler also remind me of an older mid-eighties country sound. At times the harmonic balance leans a bit toward a thin, clean, aggressive midrange so prevalent on early digital recordings. Perhaps this harmonic slant was chosen so no one will miss the twang of the multi-tracked guitars and pedal steels. Fortunately, after turning down the treble a bit, the sound never ruins the power of the music.

If you consider yourself an adult who favors country music I suspect you'll find much to enjoy on Freewheeler. David Ball knows how to create music guaranteed to make you proud be a country music fan.

 

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