David Ball

Freewheeler

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While it's true that country singer and songwriter David Ball records infrequently -- his last album, the excellent Amigo, appeared four years ago -- the consistent high quality of his offerings almost compensates. Freewheeler is Ball's opus. Having nothing to prove and no one to prove it to but himself, Ball offers a 12-song program of originals and covers that underscores his reputation as country music's greatest living practitioners. The depth of Ball's knowledge and commitment to the music is often surprising. "Louisiana Melody" effortlessly melds Cajun dance music to two-step honky tonk and is a hell of an opener. The morality tale at the heart of "Happy With the One You're With" is a shimmering barroom drama that doesn't end in tears. "Tell Me With Your Heart," written by Ball and Chris Carmichael, feels like it was Nick Lowe interpreting country music; it's modern, drenched with whinnying pedal steel and has melodic hook to die for. Producer Wood Newton's "I Can See Arkansas" is a straight-ahead love song that with Ball's commitment becomes nearly transcendent. The smoking "Too Much Blood in My Alcohol Level," is one of the few great modern drinking songs; it would feel right at home on a Gary Stewart or a Mercury-era Jerry Lee Lewis album and the use of the Hammond B3 is a nice touch. "Desert Luau," written by Danny Baker sounds like Ball paying his respects to Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen with its Western swing meeting R&B. The swaggering stroll of "Yours Truly Blue," goes back to the roots of honky tonk, and "A Girl I Used to Know" is a love song that Raul Malo would kill to have written. The set closes with the title track, a dignified and moving read of Jesse Winchester's "Freewheeler." When hearing Ball's reading, it's as if Winchester had written it for him. It rings with heart, guts and the truth, like the rest of this album. Ball may not be on the radar screen, but he's as fine a performer, and true country music singer/songwriter as we have, and the evidence is right here.

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