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Music Review: David Ball – Sparkle City

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David Ball’s got movin’ on his mind, judging by the contents of Sparkle City. Virtually every song on his eighth recording concerns place – whether leaving or heading back to – with titles like “Tulsa,” “Back To Alabama,” and “Houston Again” – the most obvious indications of his urge to travel. Ball comes by his wanderlust honestly, though: “Mama says it’s all because that night / I was born under a green traffic light,” he sings on “Maybe Tomorrow.”

Backed by his Pioneer Playboys, Ball romps through an all-original playlist (three with a bit of help from L. Russell Brown) that ranges from the bluesy swagger of “Country Boy Boogie” to the wistful Tex-Mex sway of “Just Along For The Ride.” He has a knack for breezy hooks and catchy choruses, and Sparkle City sounds like a collection of classic, time-tested honky-tonk hits, with a perfect mix of songs that seem as though they’re soaked in spilled beer and tears and others that sound like the aural equivalent of a lazy summer afternoon in the hammock.

Whatever the mood, though, it’s all done with good-natured goodwill and impeccable taste, with the result a delightfully easy-going collection. Ball’s high tenor is warm and inviting, and he’s as convincing on the tender “What’ll I Do If I Don’t Have You” (as straightforward and honest as its title suggests) as he is on its polar opposite, “Smiling In The Morning,” which finds him with “a transatlantic ticket in my pocket and I’ll soon be gone.”

Ball gets impeccable support from drummer Scott Metko, bassist Billy Pierce, and guitarist Troy Cook, Jr. Every note is nicely in place, but they manage to make it all swing with easygoing aplomb. They can leave lots of space when the mood is wistful and reflective (“I hope L.A.’s glad to see me/Tulsa won’t even know I’m gone”), but they’re appropriately tough on the lean shuffles (“Country Boy Boogie,” “Top Of The World”), both aimed squarely at keeping the dance floors filled.

Ball’s an old hand at this by now, and Sparkle City is the work of a mature and seasoned artist who knows exactly what works. A wonderful collection: this one’s a winner in every way!

 

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