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Charlie Ballantine

“There’s this sound I hear in my head, I get really close, but I can never quite attain it. It's hard to say, it’s hard to verbalize, but it's a pretty fun time to be a guitar a young guitar player right now.”

An arc of mystery and music stretches across America like a vein of gold, an eternal blue highway that grows mired in fable as time both adds to and erases it. What Greil Marcus called “the old, weird America” can be heard in the music of Robert Johnson and Santo and Johnny and Tammy Wynette and Duane Allman, from the dark underbelly birthed in New Orleans that extends across the plains from Bakersfield, California, to Macon, Georgia; from Roscoe Holcomb’s “high lonesome sound” to Bob Dylan’s “wild mercury sound.” And it can most definitely be heard in the reflective, lightning-flash-of-brilliance that is the music of 29-year-old Charlie Ballantine.

Born in the American heartland of Indianapolis, Indiana, Ballantine’s quicksilver guitar is all Fender Telecaster flux and flow, Deluxe Reverb danger and drive. Ballantine has two current releases: Life Is Brief: The Music of Bob Dylan and Where Is My Mind?, with two albums prior, all drawing from music and experiences documented long before he was born. Son of a blues guitarist who frequented “Indy’s” club circuit in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Ballantine has inherited the sound of the wind roaring across the plains, the desert heat of Route 66 and the lush colors of the Appalachian mountains. Balllantine’s guitar is spectral and haunting, his music an evolving tale of a young journeyman with big ears.

“I've always been attracted to the guys on the outskirts,” Ballantine says from Indianapolis. “Like John Scofield, Bill Frisell, and Jeff Beck; you can call the first two jazz, but a purist might disagree. And I like using distortion and delay and [different] vocabulary, not necessarily playing straight bebop. That’s what’s I’ve always loved, guys who are unique in their approach and who have their own voice.”

Ballantine’s guitar sound and musical concept is majestic, sometimes as blinding as a setting sun yet hinting at the unknown, a dark Americana whose remnants remain if you know where to look. That Ballantine is exploring singular music is a given. Growing up in a musical household, Ballantine was exposed early on to the pop greats, but also the sounds of jazz, blues, pop and rock.

“My parents were born in the 50s,” Ballantine explains.

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72 Jazz Thrillers

The Most Exciting Jazz Albums since 1969: 2020-2023

Read "The Most Exciting Jazz Albums since 1969: 2020-2023" reviewed by Robert Middleton


In the 72 Jazz Thrillers series we've gone from 1969 to 2023, an expansive 54-year journey. From the jazz vanguard of Bitches Brew to the dynamic movie soundtrack of Roy's World, from the sublime guitar of Bill Frisell to the singing guitar of Charlie Ballantine, the thing that all these jazz albums have in common is their amazing listenability, music you can enjoy for years and never get bored. At least I haven't been. Thanks for reading, and I encourage ...

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Catching Up With

Charlie Ballantine: Jazz Guitar Without Borders

Read "Charlie Ballantine: Jazz Guitar Without Borders" reviewed by Mark Sullivan


jny: Indianapolis-born jazz guitarist/composer Charlie Ballantine has a special relationship with American music of all kinds: jazz, folk, the blues (his father was a blues guitarist, providing some of Ballantine's earliest musical memories) and contemporary rock. He is acclaimed as one of the finest and most versatile young guitarists on the scene today. Yours truly described his style by stating “Jazz, rock, and folk music peacefully coexist in Charlie Ballantine's world." In addition to an impressive body of ...

18
Album Review

Charlie Ballantine: Falling Grace

Read "Falling Grace" reviewed by Robert Middleton


At 33, Ballantine has recorded eight albums and they are all gems. His range is wide and eclectic with tributes to Bob Dylan, Thelonious Monk and Kurt Vonnegut. But his December 2022 release stands out as a masterpiece of artistry, melody, and deep feeling. Falling Grace doesn't hit one over the head right away, but you might find you can't stop playing it over and over again. Ballantine's guitar style is crisp as an autumn morning, bluesy as ...

7
Album Review

Quinn Sternberg: Cicada Songs

Read "Cicada Songs" reviewed by Chris M. Slawecki


On Cicada Songs, bassist Quinn Sternberg paints a dreamy portrait of a languid summer evening at home, a visit to a comfortable front porch full of snoozing dogs, meandering cats, and the natural summer serenade of its title track. The first Cicada song is “June," Sternberg and company's collective musing about what Sternberg's beloved dog named June might dream about. “June" opens with a shimmer of cymbals, like you're passing through the gossamer curtain of sleep and are ...

8
Album Review

Charlie Ballantine: Reflections/Introspection: The Music Of Thelonious Monk

Read "Reflections/Introspection: The Music Of Thelonious Monk" reviewed by Chris M. Slawecki


Reflections/Introspection... follows-up guitarist Charlie Ballentine's Life is Brief: The Music of Bob Dylan, the guitarist's tribute to another (and very different type of) iconoclastic modern composer and one of the best albums of 2018. He absolutely bounces through this double-LP (one trio, one quartet) on a merry joyride through the compositions of “the onliest Monk." “Monk has such an incredible catalogue that one of the big challenges we faced was what songs to choose and also what instrumentation ...

11
Album Review

Charlie Ballantine: Reflections/Introspection: The Music Of Thelonious Monk

Read "Reflections/Introspection: The Music Of Thelonious Monk" reviewed by Mark Sullivan


Indianapolis-based guitarist and composer Charlie Ballantine has made thematically organized albums before. Life is Brief: The Music of Bob Dylan (Green Mind Records, 2018) featured creative versions of songs by the iconic songwriter, and Vonnegut (Green Mind Records, 2020), was made up of original Ballantine compositions inspired by the work of novelist Kurt Vonnegut. Here the inspiration is purely musical, and it is one of the pillars of modern jazz: the brilliant composer & pianist Thelonious Monk. Many of the ...

5
Album Review

Charlie Ballantine: Vonnegut

Read "Vonnegut" reviewed by Mark Sullivan


Indianapolis-based guitarist/composer Charlie Ballantine took his inspiration from iconic American novelist Kurt Vonnegut for this project, the most complex set of music in his already lengthy and varied recording career. He was joined by fellow Indianapolis musicians: saxophonist Rob Dixon, saxophonist/clarinetist Amanda Gardier, pianist Mina Keohane, bassist Jesse Wittman and drummer Cassius Goens. Dixon, Gardier and Wittman have appeared on several prior Ballantine recordings, so there is a strong base of shared experience to draw upon. Kurt Vonnegut ...

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