David Ball: ‘A tumbleweed ain’t got no roots/I’ve got ramblin’ in my boots…’

Out Where The Bright Lights Are Glowing…
By David McGee

David Ball
Red Dirt Music Company

Upon visiting the Land of Oz, Dorothy Gale observed, early on in her journey, “My, people come and go so fast around here!” Well, people come and go so fast in David Ball’s Sparkle City, too, but mostly because they know they belong by themselves, and have well-honed antennae to tell them it’s time to leave.

Oh, it starts unassumingly enough. The man who gave us one of country’s classic latter day singles in 1993’s honky tonkin’ “Thinkin’ Problem” kicks off this long player with a metaphorical musing on a certain male-oriented dysfunction in “Hot Water Pipe,” a high-stepping bit of twang fueled by Troy Cook, Jr.’s sputtering, discursive guitar in which Ball starts to feel the chill of a late night without naming anyone in particular as the root cause of his dilemma. His John Anderson-style drawl puts the perfect wry twist on the story, and his endearing anxiety (“hope it don’t freeze up my hot water pipe,” he sings of a cold spell aborning) sell it thoroughly. The following laid-back shuffle, “Country Boy Boogie,” recounting the comme ci, comme ca lifestyle of a backwoods fellow, not only doesn’t augur ill for what’s to come, but adds a delightful western swing feel to the proceedings. Even three songs in, with the rodeo tale, “Just Along For the Ride,” a thematic conceit doesn’t seem to rear its head, given this song’s evocative Spanish tinge and lovely, lilting melody, but take note of the protagonist’s itinerant nature (somewhat revealed in the title) as he sings, “A tumbleweed ain’t got not roots/I’ve got ramblin’ in my boots/Lady Luck, I’ll let you drive/I’m just along for the ride.” Along for the ride, indeed. Vegas is referenced in that song, and in the following sleepy country blues ballad he’s in “Tulsa,” getting ready to head out for California, and “Tulsa won’t even know I’m gone.” No rodeo rider he, but a wandering troubadour hoping to grab the brass ring on the west coast; but despite the certainty in Ball’s warm tenor voice, the whole affair’s winsome quality suggests a certain despair has already set in, and the final lyric—“I hope L.A. is glad to see me/Tulsa won’t even know I’m gone”—seems destined to be repeated, with different cities subbing for L.A. and Tulsa, in an updated version literally down the road. Guess what? You don’t have to go far for the next chapter, because in the sprightly toe-tapper “Maybe Tomorrow” he’s trying to convince himself that he’ll quit his footloose ways, “maybe tomorrow,” not even trying to feign sincerity. After one of Ball’s finest love ballads, the tender “What’ll I Do Without You,” he’s into the bustling “Smiling In the Morning,” detailing how his abrupt departure to parts untold has left his girl in tears the afternoon of his leave taking. So it is that the rich twang of Cook Jr.’s guitar and the keening, swirling lines of a pedal steel conjure the poignance of the scene Ball seems to observe from a cool, emotional distance. Having done so much exiting over the course of the album, Ball gets positively sentimental in a lightly swinging shuffle, “Back to Alabama,” in which he not only yearns for the earthly delights of the Yellowhammer State of his youth, but even misses a certain fetching female he left behind there. All in all, it’s probably the most loving tribute to Alabama since the Louvin Brothers’ 1955 gem, “Alabama.” Returning to the Spanish setting again on “Houston Again,” Ball swings and sways through a laid-back tale told by a fellow who is trying to talk himself off the road to certain ruin in the city in question, where a woman he deserted awaits him along with, apparently, an angry father determined to make an honest man of someone who knows the road is his master.

David Ball, ‘Thinkin’ Problem,’ 1994, introduced by Marty Stuart. The song that put David Ball on the map, off his multi-platinum debut album.

It's fitting that the closing atmospheric treatise, “So Long,” finds Ball crooning a sentiment indicating he might be coming back this way again (“So long, let’s not say goodbye/just say so long for a little while”) amidst the storm of a swirling, restless, piano-enhanced setting that in and of itself suggests movement, purposeful and unswerving. With his basic band, simply told tales, pleasant Tennessee drawl and genial personality, Ball has made yet another worthy stand for straight ahead country, undiluted by any influences save those that would be sanctioned by Hank Williams and Marty Robbins, both of whose spirits are engaged here. Ramblin’ fever is highly infectious.

Sparkle City is available at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024