In his All Music Guide review of David Ball's 2007 album Heartaches by the Number, Mark Deming cites as the disc's "most obvious flaw" its bevy of cover songs on which neither Ball nor anyone else is ever going to top the original recordings, such as Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams" and Hank Locklin's "Please Help Me I'm Falling." Praising the one Ball original on the LP, "Please Feed the Jukebox," Deming says it shows he "can still make a little history of his own," adding that "it's a shame he doesn't do a bit more of that." It's impossible to know whether Ball reads the All Music Guide, but he has taken Deming's advice in spades on his follow-up to Heartaches by the Number, Sparkle City, writing or co-writing all 11 songs himself. For the average country artist, composing an entire album's worth of material might be a considerable challenge, but it should be noted that Ball has been writing throughout his career, and in fact has his name on the copyrights of 11 of his 14 country chart entries, 1988-2004. The trick in writing country songs is to come up with something new and fresh without straying from traditions, either musically or lyrically, and Ball clearly has the knack. There is a distinct Southwestern sensibility to the tunes on Sparkle City, with song titles including "Tulsa" and "Houston Again" (though there's also one called "Back to Alabama" ) and strong injections of Western swing ("Country Boy Boogie," "Tulsa," "On Top of the World") and Tex-Mex ("Just Along for the Ride," "Houston Again") styles. Ball sings with an easy confidence, riding over Troy Cook, Jr.'s twangy guitar parts and the solid rhythm section of bassist Billy Pierce and drummer Scott Metko. He never tries to do too much, satisfying himself to stay within the stylistic confines of traditional honky tonk country, and yet he is enough of a stylist not to come off as generic. It would be easy to imagine some of the songs here competing with George Strait's on the country charts, given the right exposure.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann