There are few country newcomers as capable at crafting a riveting and high-energy show as the whiskey-smooth Frankie Ballard. A talented guitarist and rather progressive in his recordings, the performer has collected three No. 1 hit singles, including "Helluva Life" and "Young & Crazy"--standout cuts from his breakthrough LP, 2014's Sunshine & Whiskey. His music is soaked through 'n through with the rock of Led Zeppelin, the swagger of Elvis Presley and the heartache of Johnny Cash. During his Thursday night (Jan. 12) show at New York City's intimate Bowery Ballroom, the singer, 34, conjured up the ghosts of the past while clinging to his contemporary know-how of southern rock, pop and straight-chaser country.
Songs like "It All Started with a Beer" (one of the evening's most honest moments), "Wasting Time,' "You'll Accomp'ny Me" (originally recorded by Bob Seger) and "Good as Gold" rooted him to the stage floor. Ballard is an incredibly strong storyteller when he gives himself the permission to sit on the lyrics, rather than erratically bouncing ahead at a feverish pace like many of his contemporaries. His latest studio album, El Rio (out now), rumbles from within, and when he plops tracks like "LA Woman," the slinky "Cigarette" and "El Camino" into the live setting, a fire is ignited underneath him. "I grew up in bands and honky-tonking and playing my guitar and allowing room with a band onstage. That’s my wheelhouse. I wanted to try to get more of that into my sound," he told AXS.com last summer of the album--that same exactness and grit seeps into his live shows. Ballard commanded the Ballroom with his magnetism, blustering guitar solos and a collection of some serious, inescapable earworms.
"There was so much risk, really, in this whole mission, you know, of going down to the border and trying to come back with a pot of gold [for the new album]," Ballard said. That risk has paid off tremendously; radio might still avoid him, but he has developed into one of today's most impressive inhabitants. ""I've been thinking about this show all the holiday season," he said in between numbers.
Ballard paraded around the stage with self-assurance, lapping up the applause and cheers with each turn of his set-list. But he was never boastful, rather he brought the audience along on a journey into his heart and soul--shaking loose the chains of the past and allowing himself to simply be free on that stage. There was a boom of provocativeness in his strut, too, especially when he performed genre-blurring songs like "Little Bit of Both" and the harmonica-laden "Drinky Drink." It was as if Elvis himself had beamed down from another dimension; Ballard performed snippets of "Hound Dog" and "Heartbreak Hotel," much to the uproarious thunder of a fairly diverse fan base. His smart, thoughtful musical choices only served to intensify the energy in the room and left the audience satisfyingly drained afterward. His performance style is much more akin to the glossy, arena-rock appeal of the '60s and '70s but that doesn't mean he doesn't have country and red-dirt pumping in his veins. Ballard's career is just getting started, and his live show has never been more alive.
Ballard's New York City concert kicked off his 2017 tour, which runs through the rest of the year, including his March 31 show at the Gothic Theatre in Englewood, Colo.
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