After a quick listen to Balls, it's hard to imagine why Warner Brothers dropped Elizabeth Cook after only one album. Could she have sounded too traditional for country radio? Did they want her to tone down her in-your-face delivery? The mysteries of major labels are many and unfathomable, so suffice it to say that Cook is a major talent and will undoubtedly wind up with another major-label deal. Balls has the same power and charm evident on her earlier outings and the bonus of Rodney Crowell's sharp production talents. Every track crackles like a pork fat fueled barbecue fire, full of the spunk and sass that make Cook an artist to watch. "Times Are Tough in Rock 'N Roll" is a sly putdown of the mainstream music industry and a celebration of country roots driven by a traditional track that includes banjo, jew's harp (something you don't hear on many records these days, if ever) and fiddle. When she sings "All my feelings/All my fears/Were confirmed with Britney Spears" you've got to laugh out loud. Cook's been called a cross between Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, and a tune like "Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman" tells you that the comparisons aren't mere hyperbole. It's a honky tonk stomp that delineates the problems facing the fairer sex with good humor and sharp observations of the strength it takes to deal with the male ego. "What Do I Do" is Western swing in the style of Merle Haggard, a weeper that finds the singer torn between giving her heart away and walking away from a bad situation. Some nice Roy Nichols-style electric guitar fills add authenticity to the track. Cook's just as commanding on the album's ballads. "Down Girl" is as dark as anything Gillian Welch has written, "Rest Your Weary Mind," a duet with Bobby Bare, Jr., sounds like a hundred-year-old folk lament, while "Mama's Prayers" is a ringer for Parton's homespun Tennessee tales of tribulation. The most surprising track is "Sunday Morning," the Velvet Underground oldie transformed into a mournful ballad given extra melancholy by Matt Combs' fiddle work. Balls is a great album made by people who obviously love the grit and honesty of real music.
AllMusic Review by j. poet
feat: Bobby Bare, Jr.