In the four years between his last studio album, In the Falling Dark, and this one, David Mallett left Nashville and returned to his native Maine. This retrenchment is reflected in the songs on Ambition, all of which are at least tinged with sadness, and most of which are downright bitter.Mallett begins with "Here in This City You Live In," one of those on-the-road songs about cold-calling someone you used to know. But there's no story here, just the singer's own regret. And he remains regretful in "Wild in the Sixties" and "You Can't Go Home Again," both of which look back at the past without much affection and at the present with less. "Greenin' Up," about the coming of spring, provides some relief, although it begins with the singer comparing himself to an old horse: "Just like me he's seen his better days." "Whiskey Talkin'" is full of drunken raving, while "Walkin'" anticipates getting laid off. The title track comments on the singer's "best friend and my worst, " and "The Next Time I Leave Here" is about a romantic breakup. It isn't until the album's last three songs that Mallett seems to feel he's made things too dark and tries, through the more gently described past history of "Sportin' Days," the romantic "Lilacs," and the stubbornly hopeful "Turn It Over to Love," to lighten things up. But it's too little too late. Mallett has sometimes been compared to Merle Haggard, and the comparison is valid in that both songwriters can take an unremittingly bleak world view that goes beyond criticism into sheer bile. His restrained performance style undercuts the negativity in his lyrics; if you don't listen too carefully, the record sounds like an old Gordon Lightfoot album you somehow never heard before. But as you get to know the songs, Mallett comes off as a curmudgeon and, ultimately, a boor.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann