David Ball has the talent to be a huge star, yet he seems content to fly underneath Nashville’s radar. His first song, “Don’t You Think I Feel It, Too,” was originally recorded by Jessie Colter, then later by Shawn Colvin and Lyle Lovett. His first group, Uncle Walt’s Band, teamed Ball with high-school chums Walter Hyatt and Champ Hood. They influenced a generation of roots songwriters including Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Nanci Griffith, and Shawn Colvin. His solo career began in ’94 with the disc Thinkin’ Problem, which spawned three #1 country hits. Ball toured with Alan Jackson and Dwight Yoakum, but a record label reorganization quashed his climb to the top. He regrouped and joined the ranks of musicians forced to eschew major companies in favor of smaller indie labels.
This all brings us to Freewheeler, which showcases Ball’s stellar performing and songwriting abilities. And although the airwaves devote plenty of space to new country and hot country, there’s have little room for adult country, which best describes Ball’s music. Tales of young impetuosity give way to stories of older regret. Instead of lyrics about young love and hot bodies, Ball treats us to narratives such as one about temptation in an airport bar titled, “I’m Happy With the One I’ve Got.” Arrangements also harken back to more classic country, with piano, steel guitars, dobros, and fiddles taking the forefront rather than Gibson Les Pauls heard through Mesa Boogies set to stun.
The sonics also remind me of an older mid-’80s country. At times the harmonic balance leans a bit toward a thin, clean, aggressive midrange so prevalent on early digital recordings. Perhaps this slant was chosen so no one will miss the twang of the multitracked guitars and pedal steels. Fortunately, after turning down the treble a bit, the sound never ruins the power of the music.
If you consider yourself an adult who favors country music, you’ll find much to enjoy on Freewheeler. David Ball knows how to create music guaranteed to make you proud be a country music fan.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.