Jim Ballard. Human Harvest.
Skylyne, 2012. Jim Ballard: http://jimballardmusic.net/Welcome.html
No, this is not the Jim Ballard who coached football for Mount Union, or Jim Ballard the “life coach,” or Jimmy Ballard the golfer, unless the one we’re interested in has multiple secret lives. This Jim Ballard is the singer-songwriter, film music composer, and heartland rocker based in Akron, who has recently released his eighth (I think) CD. He’s been around since the days when vinyl walked the earth, and continues to turn out interesting and enjoyable music. Human Harvest covers a lot of territory, both lyrically and musically, much of it to great effect. Ballard’s style is now outdated in terms of current musical trends; his music recalls Dylan, the Byrds (he even alludes to a tambourine), and the Midwest sounds of Seeger, Stanley, and others. This isn’t a bad thing, it just guarantees that his audience is likely to be older and more local than he probably deserves.
Structurally, several of his songs begin as ballads, building to rockers as his emotional intensity increases. This was one of the first things I noticed. The second track, “Wildflowers,” shows the template for this, with the verses sung softly with acoustic accompaniment, and the choruses moving into rock anthem mode. Others are straight ahead rock songs, such as “L. A. Rain,” which has nothing to do with Los Angeles but everything to do with Lower Akron. The Dylan/Byrds influence is strong here, where Ballard combines jangly guitars combine with McGuinn’s signature phrasing. “Nothin’ on Me” moves into full “Subterranean Homesick Blues” mode, with lyrics about the barrage of media. His songs reference difficult beginnings, overcoming adversity, and life’s complexities, although he doesn’t leave out lost love, as exemplified in “Who Goes There,” a story about no longer recognizing someone he used to love. Personally, I find the lyrics a bit obscure, but having them in front of me helps (they’re on his website), and there are convenient interpretations of his songs on the purchase page of CD Baby (these are listed as album notes, although they’re not with my CD).
Ballard’s voice is pretty good, a bit ragged at times, but effective in putting across his songs. Most prominent is his guitar, which he solos with on several tracks, most notably “Once You Get Started.” My favorite song here is “Well Well Well,” which combines a great groove, fine guitar work, and his strongest vocals. The last song on the album is the only true ballad, and is a tribute to his friend, fellow musician John Bassette. All in all, this is a good album, well worth seeking out. Get a copy with the album notes.
Personnel: Jim Ballard (guitars, piano, harmonica, vocals), Whitebuoy Slim (drums), Ezra Case (Hammond organ), with guest musicans, Morgan Phelps (bass), Alex Bevan (vocals), Khearan Morgan (vocals), James Robert Ballard (a.k.a. Jim) (strings).
Tracks: Stick Dance, Wildflowers, Who Goes There, Once You Get Started, Rainmaker, L.A. Rain, Nothin’ on Me, Little White Lie, Well Well Well, Save Me a Place. (Lyrics available at his website)