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with Travis James Humphrey
Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 9:00 PM EDT
Asylum, Portland, ME
18 years and over
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The best music is about connection, that place where words and music allow an artist's reality to fire real emotion in listeners. And it's just that connection that has been at the heart of Frankie Ballard's rise as an artist.
"I see people relating to the words of these songs," he says, "using the lyrics to reflect on their own lives."
Nowhere has that been more evident than in Ballard's breakthrough Top 15 hit, "Helluva Life." Fans are owning every line as they sing it back in concert and use social media to share their own stories of good times and bad, and the way romance puts a shine on all of it. As they sometimes do, the song's maxim that "bad times make the good times better" has become a rallying cry and a life-affirming motto.
It also rings true to the life Ballard himself has been living.
"Helluva Life" is the opener from Sunshine & Whiskey, an album that announces Ballard as one of the genre's most nuanced singers and writers, someone whose long road history and wide musical taste add substance to his obvious surface appeal. He first hit the public spotlight with two Top 30 singles, "Tell Me You Get Lonely" and "A Buncha Girls," appearing on the Grand Ole Opry and playing packed arenas opening for Kenny Chesney and on major tours with Taylor Swift and longtime idol Bob Seger. But he took a different musical approach forSunshine & Whiskey.
"I'm really proud of this album," he says. "It's got songs that really mean something to me and I knew they would mean something to other people. It's got lots of different emotions, from partying and having fun to some really deep stuff. It's an emotional journey as well as a musical journey."
The fun side includes "Whiskey" and "Drinky Drink," about which Ballard says, "I've been making music for a living for about ten years now and I've found myself in a bit of trouble from time to time. The two things that always put me there—women… and whiskey." "Don't You Wanna Fall" is about a singer, "a high-wire act without a net," with a woman he wants off the pedestal he's put her on. "He's saying, 'Come down here to my level where it's real,’" Ballard says. At the deep end is "Don't Tell Mama I Was Drinking," a song that hearkens to the stories of tragedy and despair that were once a country mainstay--"It sounds like something Waylon Jennings would cut," he says.
That diversity is a key component of the record.
"This music was born on the road," he says. "I'm the product of going out and making it happen, finding out what works. My influences fall everywhere from Bob Seger to Howlin' Wolf to Jerry Reed, and through the years it’s all come together in my songwriting and playing. People who listen are going to hear mefrom top to bottom."
Night after night, show after show, that's just the connection Frankie Ballard is making.