Earl Poole Ball,
(independent, 2013)

As the title makes clear, veteran keyboard player Earl Poole Ball is putting his story to music on Pianography. He's also tossing in some other stuff. Over a career half a century long, the (now) Austin-based Ball has backed up major artists (Buck Owens, the Byrds, Gram Parsons, et. al), but he's best known for his two decades or so with Johnny Cash's band. Though no one has ever called Cash a practitioner of honkytonk, that's the style that dominates the present recording, as it does his gigs and CDs with the likes of the Lucky Tomlin Band, Heybale and other Texas country acts.

It's an approach that owes a debt, inevitably, to Jerry Lee Lewis and, before him, Moon Mullican. Poole is an able practitioner and a decent vocalist, and his songs, sometimes co-written with Jo-El Sonnier, sound like ones that would have charted in the 1960s and '70s, at a time when country records were augmented with rock 'n' roll arrangements.

The first seven cuts, more or less autobiographical, address the big issues: the choices that make us who we are (the title song), the heartaches no one escapes (the brilliant "One of Those Old Things [We All Go Through]") and the inevitability of death (the darkly humorous "Something's Gonna Get Us All"). These are definitely not themes that you're going to hear aired on what passes for country radio these days.

Most of the album's second half is taken up with live rockabilly outings of Cash and Roy Orbison classics, plus the Carter Family standard "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." The two concluding cuts come from studio sessions in 1967 and 1977 respectively. They fit in easily with what Ball, whose preferred method of musical expression was set long ago, is doing currently. And that's OK. As you listen to Pianography, you'll wish that country were still like this.

music review by
Jerome Clark

3 August 2013

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