From the ringing distortion and raspy vocals of the opening track “A Buncha Girls,” newcomer Frankie Ballard makes it immediately evident that he feels right at home with some back country soul and a heavy dose of guitar fire. On his self-titled debut, the 28-year-old guitar slinger offers up his own brand of heartland country, Dixieland blues and Mellencamp-influenced rock’n’roll.
Maybe it’s because he’s originally from two hours west of Motown, but Ballard is able to blur the lines between country, blues and rock with a nice bit of finesse. On songs like the radio-ready “A Buncha Girls,” Ballard sings, “They say ‘Sha-la-la, hey-hey-hey’ with the band and party all night long,” referencing Van Morrison’s iconic “Brown Eyed Girl” amidst bluesy guitar hooks and contemporary country lyrics. On his debut single, “Tell Me You Get Lonely,” palm-muted guitar chords plod away as a subtle organ melody swirls before Frankie cleverly sings, “Sometimes you’re up all night crying over me/ You gotta take off of work to catch up on your sleep” with a country twist to project his own feelings onto the one that left him.
Hailing from Battle Creek, Mich., Frankie originally enrolled at Western Michigan University at age 18 on an athletic scholarship, dreaming of making it big in Major League Baseball. He never even touched a guitar until college, but once he did, he dove headfirst into the blues of legends like Stevie Ray Vaughan and the country pickin’ of greats including Ricky Skaggs. These influences are heard in Ballard’s guitar work all throughout the record, but most prominently on the delta blues influenced “Get On Down The Road.” With a dirty distorted slide guitar and swampy banjo, Ballard uses the opportunity to show off his six-string skills with a fluid slide guitar solo. He finishes the song making the guitar rev like the engine of the car he’s driving, singing, “I better get on down the road, as fast as I can go.”
Frankie slows it down on “Sober Me Up,” a beautiful and blue ¾-time country ballad that may be the best example of all his influences coming together. Here, Ballard’s voice is emotional singing, “Baby I need you to come and stop the room from spinnin’,” after a stuttering blues guitar lick that leaves the listener longing for more. The song’s big chorus is in perfect contrast to the quiet verse as it calls for salvation with the words, “Sober me up, bring me back down, help set my feet on solid ground.”
Frankie Ballard is all of 28-years-old and has only been playing the guitar for 10 years. However, on his debut album, he’s able to blend his diverse influences into a soulful collection expressed through both his singing and the voice of his guitar.