My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: David Ball – ‘Sparkle City’

I’ve always liked David Ball’s music, but it’s been a while since he saw any chart action; 2001’s ‘Riding With Private Malone’ was his only hit after 1995 and he is now recording for the independent Red Dirt Music Company/E1. His last album was a tribute to the classic sounds of country music, dating from the 1950s to the late 80s, with only one original song, but this time he has composed all the material himself.

The overall feel of the record leans to a jazzy swinging Texas groove without much variation. It would go down well live (and is probably a good representation of his live show, not least because he is backed by a core of his own touring band, the Pioneer Playboys, supplemented by outside musicians where required). However, it sounds a little samey over the length of a record with too many of the songs blending together, particularly when coupled with a lack of variety in the subjects tackled. Many of the lyrics are variations on a theme of the restless drifter unwilling ever to settle down, but none of the songs resonates as much as, say, the similarly themed ‘Freewheeler’, title track of David’s last original record in 2004 and one of my favorites of his.

The album opens with the entertaining but unsubtle double entendre of ‘Hot Water Pipe’, which was a winter single for David.  The following ‘Country Boy Boogie’ (my least favourite track) has a good groove but is not very interesting lyrically and has annoyingly shouty background vocals in the chorus.

The repetitive ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ is back to the slight jazzy western swing feel as the protagonist makes an unconvincing suggestion that maybe tomorrow he’ll change his restless ways (although I like the line playfully blaming his restless ways on being “born under a green traffic light”) . ‘Smiling In The Morning’ has the frankly unlikable protagonist leaving a short-term lover (not to mention the country – a rather extreme way of avoiding commitment), although I do like the tune.  ‘Back To Alabama’ is better, with its prodigal protagonist dreaming of going home, and a sultry bluesy feel, but by the time we get to the forgettable ‘On Top Of The World’ the groove is sounding a bit tired and very far from sparkling.

There are a few songs which break from the template. I like the rambler’s defence, ‘Just Along For The Ride’, with its loping western feel and melancholy undertones to David’s vocal (even when he talks of winning in Las Vegas), which is reminiscent of the best of David’s past work. There is a similar feel to the lovely ‘Tulsa’, overtly relaxed but layered with an underlying sense of regret, with a musician planning to up sticks and move to LA, “chasing a dream” and wistfully saying,

I hope someday they say good things about me and my song
Hope LA’s glad to see me
Tulsa won’t even know I’m gone

Most of the songs are solo compositions, but three were co-written with L Russell Brown, and they are among the best on the record.  ‘What’ll I Do If I Don’t Have You’, a plaintive last-ditch appeal to a lover planning to leave, has a simple charm and irresistibly sing along melody, and a subtle string arrangement adds to the effect.  The Tex-Mex ‘Houston Again’ may be yet another song about a rambling man not wanting to settle down, but is more interesting than the rest with an actual story – the narrator is running away from Houston because there’s a pretty girl and potential father-in-law there hoping to “rope me in and tie me down”.  It scans badly with an awkward line break in the middle of the word grandchildren, but that aside is one of my favorite tracks.

The last of the co-writes, ‘So Long’ closes the album appropriately with an attractive sounding temporary goodbye song.

I am enjoying listening to this record, but its doesn’t appeal as much as David Ball’s older music.

Grade: B

2 responses to “Album Review: David Ball – ‘Sparkle City’

  1. Pingback: ACM Awards Boost Winners’ Sales; Willie Nelson Boulevard; New Carrie Underwood Video | The 9513

  2. Scott Metko May 20, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Dear Occasional Hope,

    David’s last record was not a Buck Owens tribute, though the one original song, “Please Feed The Jukebox” had a strong Buck influence. The remainder of the record were David’s renditions of the songs that influenced him in his formative years.
    Please do your research before posting a review of someone’s work.

    S Metko

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