It’s always refreshing to see an act from my home state of Michigan. I mean, the state’s musical output has mostly been limited to rock (Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Madonna), weirdos (Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Madonna again) and countless Motown singers. And now we can add Battle Creek native Frankie Ballard to the list. Ballard got his big break winning a competition started by Kenny Chesney, so one might expect an album full of beach-party anthems (even though Kenny’s pretty much stopped doing those) or high-school nostalgia — after all, Ballard’s far younger, so he might not hit the introspection and heartbreak quite as hard as Kenny has lately.
Ballard instead takes a little bit of Jason Aldean, a little Gary Allan, some Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley, and a dash of Jason Aldean (whose producer, Michael Knox, also produced this album) to forge a sound all his own. In fact, “A Buncha Girls” is about as close to Chesney as he gets. Yet another song from the Peach Pickers (Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson, Ben Hayslip), it’s overstuffed with typical summertime imagery: hot girls, cold drinks, beaches and the obligatory margaritas/señoritas rhyme. It’s been done countless times before, but Frankie’s rough voice adds a little more energy and grit than these songs usually get. Also coming from the Akins/Davidson/Hayslip trifecta is the bouncy “Place to Lay Your Head,” promising a good time for a girl and not much else, but hey, it sounds good.
“Single Again” is an interesting character sketch about a woman who’s let go of an unloving boyfriend. Free to buy new shoes at the mall and have one-night stands, she’s never been happier. On this song, the electric guitar-banjo interplay brings to mind “Feel That Fire” in the best way. The same sound crops up on “Get On Down the Road”, a thumping uptempo about just wanting to get out of town and have some fun, somewhat like a more aggressive version of Dierks Bentley’s “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)” mixed with a little bit of Ash Bowers’ “Stuck.” It’s quite hard to believe that the milquetoast Chuck Wicks had a hand in writing this one!
Of course, the fine and severely underrated “Tell Me You Get Lonely” is perhaps the best song on the disc. Here, the brokenhearted narrator wants so much to know that she’s hurting over their breakup. I particularly like how the title turns into “Baby, I get lonely” in the final chorus to give the song a nice reciprocation. A fine waltz, “Sober Me Up” gently pleads for his girl’s love to help scare away all the demons. Somewhat similarly, “Rescue Me” is full of wonderful little details about two lost souls, both from troubled pasts, who come together in a bar. Finding that they trust each other, they fall in love once they realize that they can help each other through the other’s hard times.
“Grandpa’s Farm” closes off the album, bringing back the tempo after a comparatively calmer second set. It’s yet another song about a girl; specifically, a city girl who works on a farm. He wants her. Really, it’s that simple. But the big, thumping, Southern rock-influenced production gives the song a major boost, making it a worthy closer to a fine album.
Frankie Ballard may benefit from its smaller track list; with only eight tracks to work from, there’s no room for “filler” songs. Fortunately for him, all eight songs are finely written and finely sung, showcasing his raw, gritty voice. The production is radio-friendly but still crisp, energetic and rocking, adding a high energy level to even the slower songs. Even if “A Buncha Girls” somehow fails to be the big-time summer anthem that it could be, there’re still plenty of chances for Frankie to break through and offer some more new blood.