David Ball: Freewheeler

David Ball
Acaro Records

"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.

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