Slick Ballinger, |
(Oh Boy, 2006)
Daniel "Slick" Ballinger, who is 22 years old and -- yes -- white, grew up in North Carolina and moved to Mississippi after high-school graduation as fast as wheels could carry him. Unlike most of whom the same general story could be told, Ballinger's odyssey has nothing to do with Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones or other mainstream, blues-rocking carriers of the gospel. Young Slick had the wit to go immediately to the sources. He sought out surviving -- and much older -- country bluesmen such as Othar Turner (now deceased), with whom he lived for a time, backing Turner at juke-joint gigs. Since then, he's opened for Pinetop Perkins and B.B. King and sparked attention and good notices on the blues circuit.
Ballinger favors the Mississippi hill-country sound, as opposed to its more subtle Delta counterpart. Accordingly, Mississippi Soul is raucous, loud, fevered dance music, with a crunchy, stripped-down ambience. Ballinger's back-up band on the recording consists in its entirety of Leon Baker on drums and Memphis veteran Blind Mississippi Morris on harmonica. Ballinger himself is playing what I take to be an amplified flat-top guitar. Jim Gaines, whose credits include major rock and blues artists (Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Lee Hooker), produces.
Nearly every cut rocks hard, albeit in an updated downhome-blues (as opposed to rock 'n' roll) fashion. One has no trouble imagining how this must sound in a bar -- pretty much irresistible, something you might hear on the blues side of honkytonk heaven. Translating this stuff to record, however, is an iffy proposition. What sounds cool in one context may seem overheated in another, and here Ballinger sometimes seems to be trying too hard. He's obviously a talented singer, but he's pushing himself to the point of endangerment to his vocal chords, or so it appears, much of the time. A showy, over-the-top quality sometimes overwhelms the material, consisting of originals and covers from blues artists Sonny Boy Williamson I, Muddy Waters and others. As you listen, you wish he'd let up and relax once in a while.
I offer these criticisms unhappily, since there is much to admire about this young man, whose gift is not open to dispute. What we have here, perhaps, is a want of seasoning. The blues, after all, is about a lot of things a 22-year-old young man doesn't -- can't -- know about yet. I have no doubt that down the road Ballinger has some memorable records in him. Though this one certainly isn't bad, it isn't one of them.
by Jerome Clark