Alright folks, the second ever Friday Find is HERE. This week’s featured artist is none other than rising superstar, Mr. Frankie Ballard. You may know him from such chart-spotting hits as “Sunshine & Whiskey” and “It All Started With a Beer”, but despite these songs’ names, there’s nothing stereotypical about this band, and I can prove it. Even though Frankie and his Wildcat Band have only released three major studio albums, they’ve consistently appeared on the country charts since 2010; each of their big hit records are unlike one another. Frankie has a style that makes his music easily identifiable (probably due to his recognizably twang-flavored raspy voice — which does in fact strangely sound like Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas) and he writes songs that either make you feel great, or fully understand why you don’t. And yes, before you say anything, it’s true that even though releasing country music over the span of 5+ years and nabbing a few Top 10 hits can be viewed as Monday Hero status, I attest that Frankie falls into the Friday Finds category as well. When it comes to the overall trajectory of his Nashville music career, his peak is yet to come.
Fun fact: Growing up a guitar player and musician in Battle Creek, MI, Ballard also had a double passion for baseball. He even asserts that the baseball diamond was his true natural habitat growing up, and he continued to play ball all throughout his college years at Western Michigan University. “I was always a guitar player [at home],” he admits, “but [before college] I never really looked at it as a career opportunity….baseball was my first love.” He’ll also attest that his nights in college were filled with both ground balls and batting practice, immediately followed by open mic nights at local dive bars. As a young kid he mostly played guitar in the house with his dad, but throughout college he became comfortable playing in front of an audience. And thus, the Frankie Ballard that we know and (will soon) love today was born. Even though he figured out music was his true calling, however, he’s still a huge baseball fan above all else, and is known to chime in every once in a while with his thoughts on the sport and that status of his beloved Detroit Tigers. If you’re still skeptical at the possibility of this story being fabricated (you know, “fake news”), check out an excerpt from the sports talk show MLB Central last year where Ballard discussed his latest release, El Rio, and then spoke about strikeouts and Scherzer for the remainder of the interview.)
When it comes to his music, Frankie would be the first to admit that his records pull influence from a number of different genres. His songs are country at their foundation, but with a clear resemblance to classic rock and old school rhythm & blues as well. Lyrically, his songs are simplistic and relatable, which is what his dedicated fanbase hooks onto most. Whether he’s reciting tales and sentiments from his own life or simply creating his own songbook stories, the lyrics are tangible and memorable. Musically, his songs are split between either grooving, rhythmic ensembles that sound heavier than most modern country, or softer, acoustic features, which range from sunny to solemn. Some of his original tracks could undoubtedly double as 1960s Rolling Stones or Bob Seger covers, but he also has a mix of Merle Haggard and Hank Williams Jr. in him that emerges both in the studio and on stage. And of course, as an avid guitar player, Frankie always leaves room for a solo section in which he (or his lead guitarist and best friend from back in his Michigan days) rips a full-fledged blues-heavy guitar solo. When it comes to Ballard’s band, they’re known to play the hits but also mix it up a bit too, and his fans are left hanging on every word and note.
When it comes to live performances, Ballard’s band is well-versed and professional. In addition to playing bars and juke joints throughout Michigan before relocating to Nashville, their first test of performing live came when country legend Kenny Chesney chose Frankie’s band as the winner of his 2008 Next Big Star competition. After placing first in the competition, they were awarded the opportunity to open up for Chesney during a number of his stadium shows on tour that year. Since then, Ballard has been a recognizable name in country music, and his live shows are as loud and ferocious as they are welcoming and intimate. Despite the negative reviews of his last album, Frankie is still out there traveling across the States and crankin’ it to 10 every night with his band. Click the link at the bottom of the page to see where you can catch Frankie Ballard next, and then grab some live footage from his show on Wednesday night at Brooklyn Bowl in NYC!
Want to get a better idea for Frankie’s music? Here’s where to start:
- “Helluva Life” (2013) – This song is as big now with Frankie’s fans as it was when he released it four years back. With a slow tempo and a heavy kick drum (as heard in the first video above), it’s hard to avoid rocking back and forth with a lighter (or your smartphone flashlight, realistically) in hand when this song comes on. Musically, it feels like a starry summer night with nothing but all the time in the world to lose.
- “El Camino” (2016) – As the lead-off track on his latest album, this song perfectly balances a sexy lead-in guitar riff with a stop-and-start rhythm section. And then the chorus hits and it’s green means go so put the pedal to the metal. Frankie’s known to often sport a leather jacket on stage, and this song feels as midwest greaser as anything literally ever. Prepare to get amped.
- “L.A. Woman” (2016) – Another deep cut from the new album, Ballard co-wrote this song and his musical voice shines pretty clearly through it. On stage he’s got quite an attitude, and this song is impossible to sing without a little bit of sass. It combines West Coast class with East Coast fast in the best way possible. This would be Joe Walsh and The Eagles’ favorite Frankie Ballard song.
- “Tip Jar” (2014) – Another slower one, this song comes from his second album Sunshine & Whiskey, and details a dive bar performance from the point of view of the barstool musician. It’s definitely a great sing-along song, and it perfectly defines the slower sound of Ballard.
For more info on Frankie Ballard:
R&B’s specific #FridayFinds playlist for Frankie Ballard.
Need to see Frankie Ballard live in the act? Click here for tour dates and tickets.