Earl Poole Ball, Pianography (Tin Tube Tunes)

Earl Poole Ball, Pianography, album cover

Mr. Honky Tonk Piano, a.k.a. Earl Poole Ball, left his native Mississippi in 1961 to find fame and fortune, eventually landing a two-decade stint with Johnny Cash before moving in 1999 to Austin, where he remains a fixture on the sonic landscape. With a resume that lists everyone from Gram Parsons to Merle Haggard with former Louisiana Gov. Jimmie Davis, Wynn Stewart, Buck Owens, Wanda Jackson, Marty Robbins and Marty Stuart in between, the question becomes, who hasn’t played with Ball? Though it’s impossible to celebrate a six-decade career within a mere 14 tracks, Pianography makes a valiant attempt. The first seven tracks unveil new originals, four co-writes with Rayne’s native son Jo-el Sonnier, and focuses on the man’s husky pipes and songwriting prowess more so than his rockabilly ivory pounding. “Pianography” probably caps his career best, though autobiographical elements are evident elsewhere (“One of Those Old Things”). A playful duet “Say You Love Me” with Cindy Cashdollar recalls the wackiness of Roger Miller, while “Something’s Gonna Get Us All” is gruesomely humorous—it doesn’t matter, everyone, health Nazi or not, eventually croaks anyway. Four tracks, including a rippin’ “Mean Woman Blues,” come from a Johnny Cash tribute, while two more were culled from 1967 and 1977. The ’67 cut, “Second and San Antone,” shows the pompadoured rockabilly cat at his hippest with the perfect blend of twang and keys. Perhaps a boxed set would have been a better comprehensive view but Ball’s ride is far from over. There’s still time.