Over the years, Tom Ball has worn two different hats equally well. He is an acoustic guitar-playing folk instrumentalist in the John Fahey/Leo Kottke/Robbie Basho vein, but he is best known for being half of the acoustic blues-oriented duo Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan. On Filthy Rich, Ball's role isn't that of a guitarist -- Sultan does most of the guitar playing, while Ball is primarily in charge of singing and playing harmonica. Ball is in picker mode when he is unaccompanied on a medley of "The Glory of Love" and "Swingin' on a Star"; this medley shows what Ball can do as a folk instrumentalist and an unaccompanied acoustic guitarist. And Sultan is the unaccompanied folk picker on the instrumental "Buck Rag." But most of the time, Ball and Sultan work together as a team and concentrate on the blues -- usually acoustic blues, although they detour into electric Chicago blues on Muddy Waters' "Honey Bee." The refreshing thing about Filthy Rich and other Ball/Sultan releases is their loose, informal quality. Ball and Sultan don't do anything slick on Filthy Rich; they come across as two musical friends who are getting together and having a good-natured, unpretentious dialogue, and this informal quality serves them well whether they are turning their attention to Waters' "Honey Bee" or Hank Williams Sr.'s "Mind Your Own Business" (which was a major hit for the seminal honky tonker in the late '40s). Those who want to hear an entire album of Ball playing instrumental folk on the acoustic guitar would do well to check out his 1987 session Guitar Music -- that CD is a fine example of what Ball can do as a picker. But those who like him as a blues singer/harmonica player can't go wrong with the consistently pleasing Filthy Rich.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson