Frankie Ballard – El Rio

13006634_10153367348876086_179807085463405041_nFrankie Ballard’s previous album ‘Sunshine and Whiskey’ turned out to be a success commercially and propelled him into the country spotlight. It produced three #1 hits on country radio ‘Helluva Life’, ‘Sunshine and Whiskey’ and ‘Young and Crazy’. Whether this success will be repeated on the sophomore album ‘El Rio’ remains to be seen, however the lead single ‘It All Started With A Beer’ has been slow moving to say the least.

‘It All Started With A Beer’ is one of the most out-and-out ‘country’ tracks on offer and deserves so much more commercial success. “There’s been highs and lows, fast lane freeways and bumpy roads, cursed the devil and prayed to heaven, lost it all then we rolled some sevens” – a depiction of the ups and downs of a relationship, with sublime use of electric guitars in a real laid back, radio-friendly country track. Why it isn’t a top 10 hit is beyond belief.

‘Cigarette’ is a track penned by Kip Moore, originally lined up for his ‘Wild Ones’ project but it didn’t quite make the cut. It lends itself beautifully to Frankie’s style; an electric guitar-driven, extremely catchy track that you might be surprised to hear was co-written with Chris Stapleton. Certainly a far cry from the material on ‘Traveller’…but so was ‘South Side’ by Thomas Rhett! Another example of his incredible versatility as a songwriter. ‘Cigarette’ is tailor made for Frankie’s live show and was a highlight of his set at the C2C after show party this year.

‘Wasting Time’ is a highlight and is surely a future single release. The track begins with simply an acoustic guitar and really kicks into gear in the chorus when the drums and electrics come in. Almost Keith Urban-esque in places. Frankie’s raspy, gritty vocals grab your attention and he has a real ability to command a lyric.

Track four, ‘Little Bit Of Both’, is a bit of a curveball. Frankie experiments with a funky groove which isn’t an instant favourite but it’ll grow on you. Co-written by Nashville song writing heavyweights Ben Hayslip, Craig Wiseman and Chris Janson; lyrically it fits Frankie like a glove. You know exactly what you’re going to get – variations on a story about a woman. “I like a little bit of bad girl and I like a little bit of sweet….I like a little bit of whiskey and I don’t mind a little bit of smoke”.

The stand out track simply has to be ‘L.A. Woman’, almost a throwback to the 70s with a rock n roll aura about it. One of only two songs Frankie contributed to in terms of writing, this is a real showcase for everything Frankie has to offer and is clearly symbolic of his musical influences. Not particularly ‘country’ but incredibly well-crafted and a very ambitious move that has truly paid off. Ever since he performed this at C2C I have eagerly awaited the studio cut and it doesn’t disappoint.

There are so many potential singles here. ‘Sweet Time’ has an anthemic chorus and an incredibly radio-friendly rock-country melody, not too dissimilar to his previous hit singles. The same can be said for ‘Good As Gold’, a plea for a girl to ignore the “nice things” like a “house on a hill” that another man can offer, in order to live a proper lifestyle with him. Two tracks that are surely destined for mainstream success and deserve recognition.

A UK tour has been announced for October, and if the quality of this album is anything to go by, we are in for a helluva treat (ok, that was awful). But seriously, if there is any justice, this album should lift Frankie into that ‘next level’ of country artists. It’s authentic, ambitious and different, with no fillers in sight. In truth, I was concerned that Frankie would stray a little too far from the ‘country’ path, but he has managed to keep it within the boundaries whilst opening up his music to fans of other genres. Well worth checking out.