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Frankie Ballard

EI Rio – 2016 (Warner)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Frankie Ballard

The rough-edged, soulful vocalist Frankie Ballard certainly receives some high-powered songwriting help on "El Rio." Chris Stapleton, considered country music's savior by some, contributes to a couple of songs, and hit makers Chris Janson and Kip Moore also each have co-writing credits on the release. Perhaps most telling inclusion of all, however, is Ballard's cover of Bob Seger's love song, "You'll Accomp'ny Me." Much like Seger before him, Ballard comes off like a ramblin', gamblin' man and a kind of chip off the old block.

"Little Bit of Both," the track Janson contributes to, is one of those 'all things in moderation' songs where Ballard basically trumpets an appreciation of both virtues and vices. The rocker "Cigarette," which includes both Moore and Stapleton in its writing credits, shows again that country music is not only one of the few genres left where artists can sing about Jesus (virtuous), but also write about smoking (a vice). The road song, "El Camino," draws a line of inspiration that leads straight back to John Cougar's '80s roots-rock breakthrough years.

One of the singles features a title ("It All Started with A Beer") that reads like it could be a 'bad situation made worse by alcohol song,' but is actually a lovely, gentle love song featuring electric piano and southern rock guitar. Along the way, Ballard sings a couple of strikingly different regional songs. "L.A. Woman" is not that Doors hit, but more of a contemporary updating of west coast lifestyle. In contrast, "Southern Side" is a funky song dedicated to a girl from the south.

"El Rio" is not a deep album, but it's a good one. Ballard knows how to have a good time singing songs, without getting all bro-country stupid on us. By surrounding himself with a few truly smart songwriters, he's created a summer album you won't be ashamed to crank up loud - even among your brainy friends.