Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Frankie Ballard, Country Artist, Rock Artist: What's In A Label?

Last June my wife and I went to the Grand Ole Opry show in Nashville, as the concierge at the Hermitage Hotel had recommended. Great evening. A variety of musical acts ranging from Wee Jimmy Dicken – still telling Viagra jokes and performing on stage at the age of 90 – to a new up and coming guitarist. A singer/songwriter by the name of Frankie Ballard.

He may only have had time to play a couple of songs, but even in that brief performance there was something that stood out. The confident swagger of a young man not remotely overawed by the venue? The refreshing change of upbeat guitar driven songs rather than talent show clones and thudding disco beats? Whatever the case, we left the show wondering whether it was too far fetched to think that we might have had our first experience of a new Bruce Springsteen. And eagerly awaiting his debut album.

It finally reached iTunes in October. It was well worth the wait. Only 8 songs, but shades of Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, even Bon Jovi. Not forgetting Springsteen, of course. And this was a debut album. Talk about future promise.

But he was performing in Nashville, you may say, at the home of country music. Doesn’t that make him a country artist? Well, he is labelled that way in the US. And there is no denying the occasional country twang on the album, even if banjos, fiddles and cries of Yee-Ha are pretty much conspicuous only by their absence. But if you put him on stage at a UK event such as V-Festival, lining up alongside rock bands, no one would be any the wiser – and many would be all the happier for having heard him.

So what’s in a label? Perhaps just this. If Frankie Ballard is tagged as a country artist for the UK music buying and concert attending public, he may struggle for recognition. But a subtle change of label to rock could ensure that when guitar driven music comes back into favour in the UK, there is a ready made audience for him.

I am mindful of a parallel with the theme and subject matter of Hatred, Ridicule and Contempt and its central character Alex Harris. In the UK his proper professional label is solicitor, not lawyer or attorney. But the label might not be immediately familiar to US readers. Indeed, as I recall from seeing the notice “No Solicitors Allowed” on the door of a Las Vegas casino many years ago, the term can be quite properly used there to describe a hawker or a beggar. So my cover description refers to his “law firm” and avoids what could be a misleading label.

And in the meantime let’s hope for the first UK tour of the new US rock
artist Frankie Ballard.

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