By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
"Tell Me with Your Heart" by country singer David Ball is now my third-favorite Rufus Wainwright song (1. "April Fools." 2. "My Good Friend Dylan Hicks," unreleased). Sure, "Tell Me with Your Heart," written by Ball and Christ Carmichael, is really just Wilbury-era Roy Orbison, and thus sounds more like the Mavericks, who, like Ball, were popular in the mid-'90s. But possibly random artistic similarities can seem as powerful as direct influence, no? I've spotted more than one critic comparing the guy from blip-pop Canucks Junior Boys to Daryl Hall. To which comparison this Junior Boys and Hall & Oates fan says: I can't go for that. No-oh-oh. (No can do.) But I like the fact that folks are hearing something that's not on the Junior Boys' surface, and I like any reminder that genre borders are porous.
It's our good fortune that "Tell Me with Your Heart," from Ball's good-not-great Freewheeler, has none of Wainwright's air of knightly self-importance but shares his sighing romanticism. It's in the lazy, note-bending way Ball croons "know-oh," his eyes-closed falsetto on "soul," the yearning way he sings, "Tell me with your fingertips/Fingers don't lie, do they?" It's in his kiss (shoop shoop). Not that Wainwright's fans will want anything to do with Ball's pretty little toe-tapper. On the subject of David Ball, Rufus Wainwright fans speak with one voice: We haven't heard of David Ball.
If you haven't either, you could look for a used copy of Ball's Thinkin' Problem, his fairly good George Jones-y album from '94. Or for extra cool points, go back to his early stuff with Austin hippie hicks Uncle Walt's Band. Or if you can afford to buy good-not-great albums at full price, spring for Ball's widely ignored late 2004 indie release Freewheeler today, or next week. (You can wait; I mean it's good and all, but...) Besides "Tell Me with Your Heart," you'll get the stompin' Jerry Lee-derived "Too Much Blood in My Alcohol Level," the likeably stupid Polynesian wedding-band funk of "Desert Luau," several pretty showcases for Ball's butter-knife tenor, and, well, some crumb-bum stuff, too. Like an almost good I-almost-cheated song called "Happy with the One I've Got," the handsomely sung chorus of which goes, "When the waitress asked, 'Sir, would you like another one?'/ What she meant was my drink, but I looked down at my ring..." "What she meant was my drink"? Wait, I thought you were talking about infidelity--now it's drinks? But seriously, Randy Bishop and Wood Newton (the song's it-took-two-of-us-to-write-that-line authors), give us country folk some credit.
My other least favorite tune on the album is an overearnest antiwar song with a hokey key change near the end. But hey, it's an antiwar song from a real-deal country singer, an antiwar song called "Violence and Lies." We need C&W peacenik songs, we really do; we can make it, the pigs can't win forever.