REVIEW: Frankie Ballard – Live At O2 Academy2, Birmingham

p1020291It looks like Frankie Ballard will be making his UK tours a regular occurrence. A couple of appearances at C2C back in March kicked things off, followed by a week’s worth of headline shows straight after, and he returned to the UK this week for a run of shows all across the UK. Judging by his comments in our interview, it looks like he’ll be here early next year too. Ambitious for an artist that hasn’t quite cracked the US market yet, but he clearly has a healthy fan base here and he was certainly well received in Birmingham.

I have to admit; I think he got it wrong at C2C. When you’re given two songs on the satellite stage to show off your talent in front of 20,000 people, you just don’t do an Elvis cover. ‘Helluva Life’ or ‘Young and Crazy’ would have earned him so many more admirers. He then performed at the C2C after show party and left out ‘Helluva Life’ and new single ‘It All Started With A Beer’, filling the show with rock material, primarily. I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed.

This made me apprehensive about his ‘El Rio’ album when it was released in June. But, fair play to Frankie, he completely pulled it out of the bag and it has become one of my favourite albums of 2016. He nailed it. So, I decided to go and see Frankie once more in the hope that much of the new album would be performed, and in truth I was blown away by the quality of the show from start to finish. It was on another level to his C2C appearances.

First of all, however, I must give a quick mention to the support act, Smooth Hound Smith. Zack Smith and Caitlin Doyle made such an impact in Birmingham (and all over the country, judging by the reaction on social media) with their roots, folky, rhythm and blues-infused 30 minutes. Using a harmonica, foot percussion, guitar, tambourine and their superb harmonies, the duo were mesmerising to watch. The quality of the musicianship was very impressive and their foot-stomping melodies were a great way to crank up the energy. We’ll certainly be looking out for them in the future – be sure to check them out (2 albums released to date).

Frankie kicked off his set with ‘El Camino’, the first track on the new album which set the tone with its infectious guitar riff and anthemic lyrics. The talent of Frankie’s band impressed me from the outset; it sounded identical to the record itself and it was clear these are a bunch of guys who have been honing their craft for a long time. Most of the new album was included in the set list – ‘Sweet Time’, ‘Southern Side’ and ‘You Could’ve Loved Me’ the only absences.

A personal highlight was Frankie’s performance of ‘L.A. Woman’ which is a clear stand-out on the album and reaches its full potential in a live show. Perhaps the song that encompasses everything Frankie wants to be as an artist, it has Frankie’s raw, almost Texan rock influences throughout, whilst still maintaining such an accessible, engaging sound that fans of a variety of genres would embrace. A terrific track that deserves so much more exposure than it has ever received.

You certainly can’t knock Frankie for not providing variety. A real surprise was his rendition of ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’, the 1966 hit for The Temptations. I never thought I’d see Frankie Ballard jamming to an R&B/Soul classic! Shortly after, he transformed into Elvis-mode again with a medley of ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Heartbreak Hotel’; another opportunity to be Mr. Cool with the leather jacket, raspy vocals and screaming electric guitars to match.

Thankfully, Frankie included all of his hits this time around, and we were treated to performances of ‘It All Started With A Beer’ (one of the best songs of the year in my opinion), ‘Helluva Life’, ‘Sunshine and Whiskey’ and ‘Young and Crazy’ which got the crowd singing along (not an easy task on a Tuesday night in Birmingham after work!). These have become country standards over the last few years and we’ll still be playing them in years to come. Frankie probably needs another one of those from this new album to elevate him to that ‘next level’ in the country ladder.

You can’t fault his stage presence, enthusiasm and sheer talent, whether you like his rather distinct style or not. His self-confidence and rock-star stage persona isn’t for everyone, but if you accept Frankie for who he is and appreciate the quality of the music on offer, you have to admire him. This was an evening that restored my faith in Frankie Ballard and I’ll certainly be getting my ticket for the next tour.