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New Pick of the Week

August 04, 1994|RANDY LEWIS

David Ball

"Thinkin' Problem"

Warner Bros.

David Ball is bit like the patient who gets up and dances despite a doctor's prognosis that he'll never walk again. Not only does he virtually thumb his nose at the conventional wisdom of Nashville on his barnstormer of a debut album, but he seems to have a hit on his hands at that.

The unspoken rule of today's country music is to keep things upbeat. Ball, on the contrary, spends virtually the whole album haunted by memories of love gone sour. It harks back to the golden era of honky-tonkers like Hank Thompson and Webb Pierce (you can bet Ball would do a great version of Pierce's "There Stands the Glass").

His characters spend their time pining in dingy bars or tooling down lonesome highways trying to make sense out of their senseless situations. His voice constricts with emotion in the grand tradition of George Jones--especially in the title hit single--while singing over blazing fiddles and searing steel guitars forged during 1,001 honky-tonk nights.

As a writer, he's also capable of the type of repentant introspection that is Merle Haggard's hallmark. In "12-12-84," he recounts with piercing clarity the exact moment when a relationship blew apart:

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I told her I don't need her / And she told me goodby / I remember embers dying / In the ashes and the coals / and like smoke up the chimney / I watched a true love go

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All of Ball's songs--he wrote or co-wrote all but one of the dozen here--aren't as impressive. Sometimes, as in "Honky Tonk Healin,' " he edges uncomfortably close the cliches that pass for insights in Nashville songwriting houses. And he hasn't fully established his vocal identity yet--even if the country sources he taps are impeccable.

The willingness to forge his own path, however, is unmistakable. And as any doctor can tell you, it's sheer strength of will more than anything else that's behind those miracle cases that, like a David Ball, pop up against all odds once every blue moon.

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