Guitarist Charlie Ballantine aims to step out in a way that he never has before. Providence (2016), his second release, captures his goal by combining his jazz training with his non-jazz influences.
The core ensemble includes Josh Espinosa, organ; Conner Green, bass; and Josh Roberts, drums. Saxophonist Amanda Gardier appears on selected tracks. All are Indiana University classmates.
The scratch and pop of the needle hitting the record on an old turntable accompanies the introduction to “Old Hammer.” This track is an easygoing groove conjures the image of a country spread, where a working man isn’t laboring so much as he’s taking in the scenery around him while doing a little bit of work. He and his colleagues might break out into song to pass the time. Ballantine runs through his middle solo, mixing single notes with chords, throwing in some twang in key moments. His bandmates crank up the heat underneath. Then, just when you think the sound will draw the attention of the foreman, Espinoza hushes them. Relaxed, they continue to groove at will. But even the organist can’t contain himself. Before long, he’s just as intense as the guitarist before him. But when the boss looks over, they revert to what they were doing, working steadily while continuing to enjoy their song.
“Eyes Closed” has a brooding, bluesy vibe. It’s a cinematic love scene for the ears. Gardier’s soprano sax leads the melody, with each bar punctuated by a rim shot. The guitar acts as a backing vocalist during this stage of the song. Ballantine’s solo begins softly, but slowly builds with emotion and power until he hands off to Gardier. Roberts’ tom rolls aid the transition. The soprano also begins modestly, but the phrasing becomes more intense, more passionate as the climax builds.
Ballantine, 26, turned toward guitar at age 15. Inspired by his father’s finger picking, Ballantine adopted a Merle Travis-Chet Atkins approach. Drawn by the music of Indianapolis native Wes Montgomery, Ballantine became hooked on jazz. He played solo gigs at country club events around North Webster, and at weddings and other affairs.
Providence has six original songs and three covers.