Honky-Tonk Healer

"I think my music is very hooky," says Ball, who has written or co-written nearly every song on his pair of Warner Bros. discs. "I like hooky melodies and I think I can write them. I've always believed that if you hear a song once or twice on the radio, the next day you should be humming it."

The art of great songwriting -- the inspiration behind it and the historical context in which it should work -- is toasted on Starlite's finest cut, a contemplative homage to the creative process titled "The Bottle That Pours the Wine." The song is a humble salute to the power of well-chosen words in which the songwriter is "a fragile vessel of melody and rhyme/Put me on a pedestal, I'll fall and shatter every time."

"People always ask me if I'm writing from true experience, and I've always hemmed and hawed," Ball admits. "Sometimes it's part truth and sometimes you take it from something that maybe didn't happen to you but is still very real. One summer about two years ago, when I was touring behind Thinkin' Problem, I had a lot of people ask me where the songs were coming from, so 'The Bottle' was taken from those kinds of conversations. At the time I didn't have an answer for them, but I started thinking about it later. The title's just an expression you've heard before. You know, sometimes songs just fall on you from the sky and you just have to be there to write it all down. So you have to be the bottle that pours the wine."

Ball's is a refreshingly honest and passionate outlook on songwriting, considering the assembly-line dreck from the Nashville song mills that country radio has for years been passing off as the real thing (especially considering the dearth of Nashville artists who write their own material). That Ball has been able to not only record his insightful, evocative songs for a major label, but to get them played on the radio and have them sell truckloads of records is flat-out amazing. Ball admits that he's "punching the buttons a lot" when he tunes in to country radio, but believes there remains a sizable audience for what he calls his South Carolina-Texas-folk-country music.

"Well, why not?" he asks. "There's a lot of people out there who like good music and are hungry for it, and I'm one of them. There's nothing like hearing a great song on the radio." And though he knows that money is the bottom line in the Nashville music business (it is a business, you know), he says he's found himself a nice, comfy niche. "I've found that in Nashville you can find just about anything you want. You have to be lucky and be at the right place at the right time and stay true to what you do. I have a certain style that I have to follow, and so far, I think I'm doing all right with it."

David Ball performs Saturday, August 24, with Dwight Yoakam at the Blockbuster Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601 Sansbury's Way, West Palm Beach; 407-795-8883. Showtime is 8:00. Tickets range from $16 to $33.

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