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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Frankie Ballard, Nick Jonas, Garbage, Fitz & the Tantrums and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

» See more SOUND CHECK

Frankie Ballard

"El Rio"

(Warner Music Nashville)

Grade: B+


Three albums in, Battle Creek's Frankie Ballard isn't quite a country superstar yet -- but three No. 1 singles from his 2014 sophomore set "Sunshine & Whiskey" certainly have him on track. You can hear a confidence throughout "El Rio," a swaggering 11-song collection that finds Ballard keeping both his writing and recording craft on an upward trajectory without sounding like he labored over its sound. In fact, save for the lush closing lament "You Could've Loved Me," "El Rio" -- recorded with regular producer Marshall Altman at Sonic Ranch studios in El Paso, Texas -- often sounds like it came off a roadhouse stage, with Ballard and company rocking hard through tracks such as "El Camino," "Cigarette" and "Southern Side" while also exploring ringing ambience "L.A. Woman" and "Good As Gold." Ballard, who co-wrote two of the tracks, wears his Michigan roots proudly, too -- by inference on the hip-hop tinged, Kid Rock-leaning "Little Bit of Both" and directly on a finger-snapping cover of Bob Seger's "You'll Accomp'ny Me," while the sweetly laid-back single "It All Started With a Beer" sounds like something that would be on a mixtape at a Kenny Chesney pool party. It still sounds like Ballard is having a "Helluva Life" -- with no plans to stop any time soon.

New & Noteworthy:

Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle, "Colvin & Earle" (Fantasy): A pair of Americana's sharpest singer-songwriters join forces for a hot combination of originals and intriguing covers.

Fitz & the Tantrums, "Fitz & the Tantrums" (Elektra): The third and most polished album to date by the soulful Los Angeles party rock troupe.

Garbage, "Strange Little Birds" (Vagrant): The Wisconsin-formed group is as propulsive as ever on its sixth studio set, which follows the 20th anniversary celebration of the group's debut.

Nick Jonas, "Last Year Was Complicated" (Island): The fourth solo album by the main Jonas Brother and "Kingdom" star includes collaborations with Tove Lo, Ty Dolla $ign and Detroit rapper Big Sean.

Paul McCartney, "Pure McCartney" (Concord): An extensive compilation of the "cute" Beatle's solo work, available in two- and four-disc packages.

Allen Toussaint, "American Tunes" (Nonesuch): The late New Orleans legend's final recordings, produced by Rochester Adams High School grad Joe Henry, are stripped-down affairs, with a handful of guests fleshing things out in an appropriate fashion.

Also Out: Band of Horses, "Why Are You OK" (Interscope); William Bell, "This Is Where I Live" (Stax); Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kurt Elling, "Upward Spiral" (Marsalis Music/Okeh); Brandi Clark, "Big Day in a Small Town" (Warner Bros.); Etienne Charles, "San Jose Suite" (Culture Shock Music); Charlie Faye & the Fayettes, "Charlie Faye & the Fayettes" (self-released); Michael Fracasso, "Here Comes the Savages" (Blue Door); FRIGS, "Slush" (Arts & Crafts); Grant Farm, "Kiss The Ground" (self-released); Gregory Alan Isakov, "...With the Colorado Symphony" (Suitcase Town Music); Kongos, "Egomaniac" (Epic); Kaleo, "A/B" (New Elektra); Chrisette Michele, "Milestone" (Rich Hipster); Moon Hooch, "This Is Cave Music" (Hornblow); Motorhead, "Clean Your Clock LIve in Munich 2015" (UDR); Nahko and Medicine For the People" (SideOneDummy); Nick Schnebelen Band, "LIve at Knuckleheads" (VizzTone); Steve Porcaro, "Someday / Somehow" (Porcara Musica); Nite Jewel, "Liquid Cool (Gloriette); Rival Sons, "Hollow Bones" (Earache); Alexis Taylor, "Piano" (Moshi Moshi); Various Artists, "Joan Baez 75th Birthday Celebration" (Razor & Tie); Various Artists, "NOW That's What I Call Country Vol. 9" (NOW/Universal)

From The Vaults: Air, "TwentyYears" (Rhino); Beach Boys, "Pet Sounds: 50th Anniversary Collectors Edition" (Capitol/UMe); Phil Collins, "...But Seriously" and "The Essential Going Back" (Rhino); Van Morrison, "It's Too Late to Stop No...Volumes II, III, IV & DVD" (Legacy); Moby, "Music From Porcelain" (Thrive Music); Various Artists, "Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection" (Alligator)

New Music DVDs: Motorhead, "Clean Your Clock LIve in Munich 2015" (UDR); U2, "iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Live in Paris" (Interscope)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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