Kevin William Ball

REVIEW: Kevin William Ball “Helluva Town”


Kevin William Ball – Helluva Town

This gets off with a well-produced sound that at times smokes like a steam engine. Kevin William Ball virtually narrates the opening tune (“Helluva Town”) ala Johnny Bond (“X-15,” “Hot Rod Lincoln”). Glorious days. The tune here cooks a little hotter than those Bond hits. Others have commandeered this style through the years but what’s attractive on this new set is Mr. Ball’s deep resonating voice. It sounds like it took singing lessons in a saloon from a vocal coach who was also a moonshiner. The tune comes from a well of whiskey charm.

A little more fairy-tale & novelty oriented (without being silly) is “Teardrops & Tequila Shots.” Nothing is overcompensated in this collection. There are no big serious statements shoved into a listener’s ears. Some of the spirit in this set comes from the country-rock sensibility of Commander Cody mixed with the generous helping of Junior Brown.

This kind of music has a special spot in some people’s hearts. Much the same as cow-punk (Rank & File) neo-western swing (Asleep At The Wheel) & Alvin Crow-type dance-band traditions. But Ball has a warm nostalgic voice — a big plus (“California Kid,” “Hard Headed Heart” & “You Ever Get To Memphis”).

The 10-track CD Helluva Town (Drops Aug 4–Independent) was produced by Dave Coleman (lead guitar/bass) & recorded in Nashville, TN. Kevin William Ball sounds inspired & inspiration is not imitation. What’s applied here is a dose of Americana country soul stirred vigorously. Musically the showcase has its spare moments (though “Slow Rolling” pulsates).

With a voice like Kevin’s, there’s little need for showboating. Since it’s his interpretation of the tales is always center stage. The best tunes are definitely these two: “Slow Rolling,” & “Train Song (For Skip),” both have traditional pastiche but are electrifying. Something either Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, or even Boxcar Willie would shape into lively ass-kicking tunes.


Kevin’s equally effective with his rousing music as he is with his balladry & nostalgic turns. What he should probably focus on more next time around are songs that are a little more Steve Earle edgy (not political) & Townes van Zandt challenging subject-wise — simply because Kevin has the assertive voice for such compositions. He has the sensibilities (“Mo You Know”) of Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver & the melodic play & loose stylization of Gram Parsons. Lots of good stuff here.

Highlights – “Helluva Town,” “Teardrops & Tequila Shots,” “California Kid,” “Hard Headed Heart,” “Slow Rolling,” “Mo You Know” & “Train Song (For Skip).”

Musicians – Kevin (vocals/acoustic & electric guitars), Chris Benelli (drums/percussion), Joe Bidewell (keys/bgv), Tim Carroll (lead guitar), Dan Seymour & Jason Williams (bass), Dana Cooper (harmonica), Pete Finney (peal & lap steel guitars), Marshall Richardson (drums/percussion) & Mark Robinson (lead guitar on 2 tracks).

CD cover photography by Meg Suhr. CD @ iHeart + Apple Music + Soundcloud.

Video review at Americana Highways:

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