Frankie Ballard released his third album El Rio on Friday (June 10th) in the midst of the CMA Music Festival, but while he was enjoying the crowds and hearing what fans think of the new music, he admitted that he had to get out of Nashville in order to make this record.
Just before blazing through a guitar-only rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” to kick off the second night of the CMA Fest’s Nissan Stadium shows, Ballard told reporters in the press room that Nashville can be a tough place to be creative when your whole life is centered there.
“I’ve done a lot of recording in Nashville and I get easily distracted,” he explained. “I’m in there and we’re doing our thing, and somebody stops by like ‘How’s it going? Can I bring you guys some sandwiches?’ It’s like ‘No, you’re breaking up our mojo.'”
As much as Ballard loves his adopted home, he wanted his new music to come from somewhere different — aesthetically and literally. He ended up finding the perfect spot in the Sonic Ranch just south of El Paso, Texas, on the banks of the Rio Grande. That’s how the album got its title.
“I live here in Nashville and I’ve got other things pulling on me,” Ballard continued. “I knew that we needed to go to the next level with this album and the only way to do that was by focusing ourselves and getting some distractions out of our way, getting to a quiet place where we could just make music and get our heads into it. I discovered the place first, the Sonic Ranch, and it was a dream come true. I sold it to my producer Marshall Altman and we packed up the bus.”
Along with Ballard’s current single “It All Started With a Beer,” a tender drinking tune with a sunset vibe, El Rio features 11 tracks of dusty, laid-back country rock and even an old-school portrait of Ballard for its cover art — all of which seems very much inspired by the isolated, unchanging place where El Rio was recorded. That’s what he was going for, Ballard says. Once he and Altman settled on the idea, they realized how transformative it could be.
“[Altman] thought it was exciting,” Ballard said. “If you look at it from our perspective, we’re dreamers, we think about ourselves in the shower like [playing air guitar], that’s who we are. We’re performers and entertainers, and getting to travel around to exotic places to record music and try to look for inspiration in different places, we both jumped at the chance because it’s like living the dream.
“We were ready,” he summed up, “and I knew putting a mission on the thing and saying ‘We gotta go to the rainbow and get the gold and bring it back’ would put some pressure on us — good pressure — so we would deliver.”