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Frankie Ballard

Sunshine and Whiskey – 2014 (Warner)

Reviewed by Michael Rampa

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CDs by Frankie Ballard

Upon first glance at the track list of Frankie Ballard's sophomore release, "Sunshine and Whiskey" you might think you're in for 40 minutes of upbeat party anthems. Nearly half the songs have unsubtle titles like "Drinky Drink," "Sober Me Up" and the standard, "Don't tell Mama I Was Drinking." But behind some of the clichéd titles are deeper themes including introspection, death and regret.

"It Don't Take Much" is autobiographical. Ballard had designs on making it big in the Major Leagues after enrolling at Western Michigan University at age 18 on a baseball scholarship. He recalls being "just a high school kid with strong arm, throwin' them rocks at an old barn/Got a full ride shot, Gonna be a star...Now he's got that whole town facing all the dreams that they quit chasing."

Despite not having touched the instrument until he was 18, the 11 tracks are sonically held together by his more than capable guitar work that ranges from delicate slide to the full on scorching of the radio ready "I'm Thinking Country."

The album revisits two songs from his earlier recordings - his signature "Tell Me You Get Lonely, " and "Sober Me Up. " They led to his re-energized philosophy on writing and recording. He took a more blue collar approach, crafting his own product from the bottom up. Producer Marshall Altman was a natural fit for the strategy.

The highlight is the ballad, "Don't You Wanna Fall" where a man invites a superior woman to descend from her pedestal and join him "down here."

With his smoky voice, and edgy blues/rock fusion, Ballard will inevitably draw comparisons to fellow Michigan men Uncle Kracker, Kid Rock and Bob Seger. Though the album is riding on the Top 15 breakthrough hit "Helluva Life," the deeper cuts define the artist.