Frankie Ballard - 'El Rio'

With a summer seemingly full of new country music releases, June 10 heralded the release of Frankie Ballard's third album El Rio. Released around two and a half years after previous album Sunshine & Whiskey and heralded by lead single It All Started With A Beer, it is interesting to hear the development in Frankie's sound that is evident throughout this album.

Managing to toe the line between soft rock and country, tracks like Wasting Time cement El Rio's appeal. Opening with a pacey acoustic guitar and cymbal line Wasting Time develops into a rocky, drum led track that I have already had on repeat many times. The story that is built here is one of my favourites and will inevitably leave you smiling (as well as singing along!).

Lead single It All Started With A Beer smoothly bridges the gap between Sunshine & Whiskey and El Rio. With a distinctly softer sound than the majority of the album, when first heard as a single It All Started With A Beer left the listener intrigued what El Rio as a whole would bring (as many would have originally listened to this as the single rather than as part of the album). Now interestingly, the track feels a little overshadowed by the rest of the album, perhaps because we as listeners have been able to listen to it for quite a while now compared with (the majority) of the rest of the album.

Two of the strongest moments here are the opening and closing tracks, El Camino and You Could've Loved Me. Channelling the blues rock feel that appears a few times throughout this album, it feels as though El Camino is a great choice to open the album. With quite short verses, the lyrical focus of the song is mainly pointed towards the chorus, which is one of the catchiest in El Rio. While you wouldn't label this as a typical 'break-up' song, lines like "take this heartache somewhere you've never been before" and "honey I'll show you what gone looks like" build that story. El Camino as a whole is, without a doubt, a great track and one that I'm sure will become very popular.

Adding another dynamic to the album and showing a softer side to Frankie's vocal, You Could've Loved Me sees a production that is pitched at just the right level to make a distinctly compelling overall listen whilst being led by Frankie's heartfelt vocal. Whilst the almost two minute long electric guitar solo at the end of the track could feel a little excessive, it interestingly works quite well in this case, linking in with the rest of the album whilst nicely bringing everything to a close. Really lovely track that's tinged with sadness, I hope we get to hear it released as a single at some point during El Rio's run.

Whilst I really enjoyed the majority of the album, Little Bit Of Both is unfortunately just a little awkward. The lyrics are off-putting and the overall production - particularly in the almost spoken verses - feels a little messy. Whilst I am sure there will be people who will like this track, I found it to be a shame as the rest of the album is really strong and for me Little Bit Of Both is the main thing that stops El Rio from being really outstanding.  

Track listing...
1) El Camino - Lee Thomas Miller, Chris Stapleton
2) Cigarette - Kip Moore, Chris Stapleton, Jaren Johnston
3) Wasting Time - Jimmy Yeary, Craig Wiseman
4) Little Bit Of Both - Ben Hayslip, Chris Janson, Craig Wiseman
5) L.A. Woman - Frankie Ballard, Brad Warren, Brett Warren
6) It All Started With A Beer - Jaren Johnston, Neil Mason, Jeremy Stover
7) Sweet Time - Frankie Ballard, Jaren Johnston, Jon Nite
8) Good As Gold - Mando Saenz, Justin Bogart
9) Southern Side - Monty Criswell, Rick Huckaby
10) You'll Accomp'ny Me - Bob Seger
11) You Could've Loved Me - Dustin Christensen, Chris Gelbuda

El Rio is a very impressive album grounded in a rocky, gritty sound that definitely suits one of the more distinct male voices in country music and cements Frankie's 'sound'. One thing that strikes you throughout the album is even though Frankie has only co-written two of the tracks from this eleven track selection, he manages to make each track his own and sounds completely comfortable (in everything other than Little Bit Of Both). Definitely not an album for fans of traditional country but definitely one that I would recommend to anybody else!