David Ball

Heartaches by the Number

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A dozen years after David Ball scored a well-deserved hit with the updated honky tonk of Thinkin' Problem, the South Carolina native is still in the game even if mainstream country radio has turned its back on him, and his eighth album, Heartaches by the Number, is a lively and superbly crafted tribute to the sounds of Nashville's noble past. Packing 12 songs into just over half an hour (just like they did back in the old days), Heartaches by the Number features 11 country standards played with no small skill by a polished but emphatic band of Music City pickers, with the fiddle and pedal steel accents conjuring up the spirit of Nashville's Golden Age while Ball finds just the right emotional pitch for each song, whether it's the sentimental "Faded Love," the boozer's lament "There Stands the Glass," or the bitter farewell of "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down." Ball's voice, slightly rumpled but clear and strong, fits these tunes like a glove, and he wrote one new tune for this set, "Please Feed the Jukebox," a hymn of praise to honky-tonks everywhere that's one of the disc's highlights. In fact, the song is good enough to point out this album's most obvious flaw -- Ball has chosen some great songs for Heartaches by the Number, but they're also ones that any serious country fan already knows by heart, and while he sings up a storm on each number, no one is ever going to top Patsy Cline on "Sweet Dreams" or Hank Locklin on "Please Help Me I'm Falling." Rather than just celebrate country's past, "Please Feed the Jukebox" shows Ball can still make a little history of his own, and it's a shame he doesn't do a bit more of that on Heartaches by the Number, though anyone who loves a classic honky tonk song will still find this album to be glorious stuff.

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