Introducing....Frankie Ballard

American country singer-songwriter Frankie Ballard released his second album, Sunshine & Whiskey on 11 February last year and released Young & Crazy as the third (and final) single from the album last month - previous singles were Helluva Life and Sunshine & Whiskey.

One of my favourite tracks from the release is the smooth Don't You Wanna Fall, Cassandra Lawson from The Railers joins Frankie on the track providing really strong backing vocals and the combination of Frankie's distinctive tone and Cassandra's softer tone builds a really nice overall sound. In terms of the tempo and vocal production you would expect the instrumentalisation to be really stripped back but it works well with the depth that it's been given with the solid drum line and various interweaving guitar lines.

I also really like Sober Me Up. It's waltz timing and overall production gives the track a sense of comfort and Frankie delivers lines such as settle my soul with just one touch and I've been running low on love and high on living, baby I need you to come and stop the room from spinning with a heartfelt vocal that really makes the track feel as though it's very personal to him. Both Sober Me Up and Tell Me You Get Lonely were previously released as part of Frankie's debut EP in 2011.

It Don't Take Much is another great track. The only track on the album Frankie co-wrote, It Don't Take Much has a strength to it through the production and lyrics. It also includes one of my favourite lyrics from the entire album, it don't take much, a little gasoline, a couple wildfire dreams, light 'em up which I really like the idea behind. The punchy feel to the production and the majority of the lyrics gives the track a sense of conviction that really pushes the message behind the lyrics.

In the shape of I'm Thinking Country there is a perfect track to turn up loud and sing along. Whilst lacking the lyrical depth of some of the other tracks the overall track works well and I imagine it is great to hear live!

As mentioned at the start, Frankie has just released Young & Crazy as the last single from this album as he begins to prep his next release. With a rockier feel than Sunshine & Whiskey the track has a strong backing beat from the drums which is the lead throughout and then has various guitar licks which add to the dynamic.

Track listing....
1) Young & Crazy - Ashley Gorley, Shane McAnally, Rhett Akins
2) Sunshine & Whiskey - Luke Laird, Jaren Johnston
3) It Don't Take Much - Frankie Ballard, Jon Nite
4) Helluva Life  - Rodney Clawson, Chris Tompkins, Josh Kear
5) Drinky Drink - Luke Laird, Jaren Johnston
6) Tell Me You Get Lonely - Marty Dodson, Dallas Davidson
7) Sober Me Up - Dallas Davidson, Ashley Gorley
8) I'm Thinking Country - David Lee Murphy, Marcel Chagnon
9) Tip Jar - Monty Criswell
10) Don't You Wanna Fall - Jeremy Spillman, Travis Meadows
11) Don't Tell Mama I Was Drinking - Kim Williams, Buddy Brock, Jerry Laseter

I was recently able to catch up with Frankie and ask him some questions....

What first drew you to country music?
When I was a kid my dad played me country music and played country music, literally played it. A neighbour friend of his down the street was a good guitar player, my dad couldn't really play guitar but he was a great singer so those guys would get together and sort of jam and I was just three, four, five years old and I remember them getting together and jamming and singing old Kenny Rogers songs, Hank Junior, Johnny Horton, all of these really old school country dudes so to me as a child that's what music was, I didn't know any other music. I'd go to bed at night and I'd want my dad to sing me songs and he'd sing me Johnny Cash songs. As a child I had no other idea of music until I started to get older and discover things. He would play me Elvis records and things like that but I really learned everything from my dad was turning me on to country music so it wasn't until later I discovered it wasn't the only genre out there.
You co-wrote It Don't Take Much on your current album, do you have any plans to write more for your next?
Yes and I already have been writing a bunch. It's tough for me to write on the road and we're on the road almost constantly so every time I'm back in Nashville I've been trying to get writing appointments and just start to get stuff down so we have a nice little pile of songs for this release started so I'm really excited to get in the studio and start recording some of this new music.
Do you find it easier to co-wrote or to write songs on your own?
I start a lot of songs on my own, the lyrical ideas or the melodic ideas, but I always find it fun to co-write, I think primarily because it keeps me on task. When you're by yourself it's easy to drift off or start doing something else on the guitar or whatever. When you're at a writing appointment you feel obligated to continue and I feel I often finish more songs co-writing than I ever do by myself.
Who would you like to write with that you haven't yet?
I was just thinking about that the other day, I would like to try to write with Kacey Musgraves. I really like her writing style, she and I both write with some of the same writers like Luke Laird and Shane McAnally but we've never written together. I've always wanted to try that because I love what she's doing.
Who would you say have been your biggest influences?
Well, some of those guys I named earlier that my dad turned me on to like Elvis, Johnny Horton and some of that old school, Jerry Reed, that old school country stuff was big for me as a kid. As I got older I discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Almond Brothers, some of those bands that I felt like were singing country songs, the lyric was very similar to country music for me but it had lots of guitar playing and was exciting, kind of rock and roll. Growing up in the state of Michigan, there's a guy, a rock and roller from the east side of the state called Bob Seger, who was a big influence of mine as well. It was rock and roll as well but the difference between guys like Bob Seger and John Mellencamp and Led Zeppelin, I didn't really understand what Led Zeppelin was singing about. The lyric was a lot more poetic whereas some of Bob Seger's stuff felt like a rock and roll song but the country lyric, the stories and the words to me were a lot more palatable. So Seger was a big influence of mine as well as the old school country stuff. I love blues too, Stevie Ray Vaughan was a big guitar influence for me, I have a whole new set of influences when it comes to guitar playing! From Jimi Hendrix to whatever but I've always been biggest fan of those bands and those artists who had some edge to them but the lyric was very country, an understandable conversational lyric.
How do you select which tracks make your album?
That's never easy because we always record more than we need and we always have more songs than we need before we even record so it's always tricky for me, I always just try to be honest, songs that honestly move me or are something I really want to say. I really don't think of it in terms of  'this sounds like a hit' or 'this sounds like a hit' or 'this is a hit', I just try to stay as honest as I can if that makes sense.
You recently released Young & Crazy as the album's third single, was that an easy decision to make?
You know, 'Young & Crazy' was in the running for all of the singles! It was always up in the conversation for the first single and the second single. It's a song that everybody at the record label loves, I love and I've always felt like it should be a single and now seems like a great time to release it. It's up tempo and I think it's a perfect follow up to 'Sunshine & Whiskey' and will be the last single off of 'Sunshine & Whiskey' so it was really now or never because we're going to be moving on to the new project after this single so it was a no brainer for me. 
Do you feel your live set has developed the more you've performed?
Oh no doubt, I've been playing live music for a living for over ten years now and it's constantly changing as I evolve and get better, as we play different songs or we're out on tours. I'm always very observant and looking for things that I like in other performers or that I don't like, 'I'd like to do something like that' or ' I definitely don't want to do something like that'. I always try to keep it organic like that and breathing and make it a living thing. I never want to get to the point where it's just 'this is how we do our set and that's it', I always like to take recommendations from the band or from outsiders and say 'what do you think'? I know it can get better every night and I always want to leave the door open and allow it get better so it's constantly changing.
Which song is the most fun to perform live?
It'd be hard not to say 'Helluva Life' or 'Sunshine & Whiskey' because they were hit songs and that's something I've never got to before they became hits. I had people singing along with more before if I did a cover song but it's a much different story when it's your song that they're singing. Those are just so much fun, ever night I do them and people cheer and they're singing the words back to me and it really is a wonderful feeling. I think back about the hard times and the times we've struggled and recording the songs and all of that and just to look out into these random faces and see them mouthing the words back is really a euphoric thing I get to experience every night so those are my two favourites.
What song do your fans respond to the most?
Probably 'Sunshine & Whiskey' because it was a hit and because it's just so much fun. I think people, especially out on tour with Florida Georgia Line, I think when people hear that they're so excited to get the party started and their at a big show so when they hear that song they really react and start dancing.
Is there any particular song that means more to you than any other?
On the 'Sunshine & Whiskey' album I'd probably have to say 'It Don't Take Much' is way up there. Again, 'Helluva Life' and 'Sunshine & Whiskey' will always be very close to me because they've changed my life and allowed me to do so much, but 'It Don't Take Much' is a special one for me, because I wrote it but also because it speaks to an honest part of my journey. I love playing that one live as well, I wish that that could have been a single, maybe it could have been a fourth single. I always enjoy playing that one live, I think I'll probably always play that one live.
Who taught you the guitar or did you teach yourself?
I taught myself, I never took lessons but listening to guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan, listening to Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd, those guys all taught me how to play guitar. I stole a lot of licks and I'm still stealing licks from those guys. Other than that it's basically self taught, just in my bedroom listening, re-winding, figuring out, re-winding again, just lots of trigger time.
Which artist would you like to collaborate with and why?
You know that's such a good question. I've been asked it before and it's so hard to answer because there's so many things you could do. You could rock out with Eric Church or Miranda Lambert or you could do something really cool and old school country with Dolly Parton. I've never been a huge fan of male-male collaborations, I would probably want to do something with a female, just because there's so much more of a drastic difference in the vocals. Sometimes when two guys are collaborating it's hard to distinguish who's who, for me it's just such a cleaner duet when it's male and female so Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert, I think both of them would be really really cool and I like their voices too, or Dolly! Old school [laughs]
Which song do you wish you'd written and why?
Do you remember that song by Randy Travis 'Three Wooden Crosses'? It was a big hit back in the day. I don't know what it is about that song, it just, it hits me so hard and makes me emotional every time I've ever heard it. It's so well written, it's such a great story, an original story, I've never heard anything before or since that story that was along those lines. It took some chances, there's a hooker in the song, I just love it so much and every time I hear it I think to myself 'man I wish I had written that song!' so I'll pick that one.
Have you ever been over to the UK as a tourist?
No, I've never been over there. I'm sad to say that. I've spent so much time working here to try and build my fan base that I haven't had the time but I really am excited to do that. I know a lot of artists who have come over there and done it, I know there's a lot of country fans over there. My roots are Irish so I've always wanted to come over to Eastern Europe and tour. Not only just to see it as a tourist, even more than that I really want to play some music over there, so hopefully. You can help by spreading the word! Hopefully we can do that soon.
So there's no plans to tour the UK?
I don't have anything planned right now, this year is all locked up with Florida Georgia Line but hopefully soon. I wish that I understood the country market over there better, I'm a bit ignorant to how it all works over there and how our music gets played there and a lot of that stuff so I'm not really sure what it takes. I've been waiting for somebody to say 'okay it's time! it's time to go!' [laughs] I've got my passport ready, just let me know when! I've got a big suitcase! So, hopefully soon, I really am itching to do that because, I don't know the country fans over there as well as I know them here, but I think people would like our music. I think it would be a cool thing, I reckon people would enjoy it. I want to try and get on Top Gear, I love that show! I love Jeremy Clarkson [laughs] As soon as somebody tells me it's time I'm coming and I'm coming with a vengeance. I'm going to win them all!

Thank you to Frankie for his time! Sunshine & Whiskey is an amazing album that I would recommend everyone purchases it and I'm looking forward to hearing how Frankie has developed when his music comes out. Frankie clearly wants to come to the UK and I hope he finds his way over here soon!

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