Just like the eternally pleasing peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Heartaches By the Number is a sure winner, just for its ingredients alone. Even those who hardly ever eat sandwiches have eaten a pb&j at least once. Similarly, ears that rarely get within range of country radio or a honky-tonk jukebox will recognize many of these fine tracks. Patsy Cline, for instance, was a great torch singer who just happened to be a country girl. Her “Sweet Dreams” hit is widely recognized well beyond the red state lines. Similarly, who hasn’t swung their partner at least once to Bob Wills’ “Faded Love”? My personal favorite from this 11-song set is “There Stands the Glass”. Of course, the singer is not singing about a refreshing swig of lemonade. This glass holds the strong medicine required. When I hear Ball singing it, I imagine a man holding his glass up eye level, and speaking to it man-to-drink.
Ball has chosen overwhelmingly sad songs to complete this set. Harlan Howard’s “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down” half hopes that a girl will come back to an old love after her high living days have left her cold. “What’s Going On In Your World” similarly looks in on a woman who may or may not be having a good time without her old flame. The man left behind is not enjoying this transitional phase, that’s for certain. And Ball is comfortable singing these old songs because his contemporary material is not all that different from these covers. He may still be a relatively young face, but his “new” music is an obvious chip off the old block. Ball’s renditions of these songs, in fact, may even be more stripped down than their originals. Some of the tracks were recorded at a time when Nashville foolishly thought most ballads required string sweetening. But there are no violins and violas to be found on these tracks. Instead, Ball and co-producer Dan Frizsell fill out these recordings with steel guitar, honky-tonk piano, and fiddle. In other words, just the basics. Joe Spivey’s acoustic work is especially notable, particularly the strummed beat he’s created for “Faded Love”.
There is also one new song included, titled Please Feed the Jukebox, but it fits right in with the rest. Guitarist Chris Leuzinger pumps up the track’s volume with snappy guitar work worthy of the great Don Rich. Its lyric asks us to, “take good care of these old songs.” It’s about more than just saving an old honky-tonk. Instead, this is Ball’s request to help keep the great songs alive and preserve what honky-tonk country music is all about. And in a sense, his Heartaches By the Number CD is Ball’s way of feeding the jukebox, and keeping some of country music’s best songs upfront and in the limelight.
This is the sort of album cold beer was created for. It’s drinkin’ and cryin’ music alright. But even if you don’t down a few and have a good cry while it plays, you can still empathize with those who do. We’ve all had heartaches by the number, even though some have higher numbers than others. These songs still sound great today because, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, they are above and beyond fashion trends. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches tasted great when you were a kid, back when you walked away from the table with grape jelly all over your mouth. And admit it: you still love those good old sandwiches even now. The exact same can be said for the material on Heartaches By the Number. It’s fail-proof food for the ears.