Ballantyne's penned killer-catchy cuts for others, notably several for Big Sugar, including "If I Had My Way,", and The Trews' fun "Poor Ol' Broken Hearted Me." On the side he's been releasing his own albums at the rate of one every couple of years, chock full of the kind of cuts bands line up for, looking for radio hits. He used his Covid downtime to clean his closets and pour a ton of work into this latest, a whopping 20-track set, with lots of new songs and a few repurposed from older writing projects with others.
Twenty cuts seems like a daunting listen when you're at the start, even from your favourite groups. With this album, I kept waiting for a song I didn't love. And the hits just kept on coming, every one of them a tight, bright, three to four minute joy. It's all guitar rock/pop but there's a twist with every production. Not only did Ballantyne pour the work into the songwriting, he spent valuable time on the tricks of the trade that make the songs different. "Fool" features fantastic horns that open the track alone, a kind of New Orleans parade moment. They sit back through the verses, thickening up the rhythm, and then step forward again for a duelling sax solo, which then morphs into a lead guitar lick to finish.
"The News You Need To Know" is a completely different kind of lyric, Ballantyne dishing out the headlines, from a snap election to a boating tragedy to the Blue Jays score. Slowly he slides in bits from a personal life, such as "Mary scraped her forehead playing soccer at the school." The song becomes a pointed message to someone who is missing life and the important news, focused too much on themselves: "Usually you seem like you're in cardiac arrest, but don't you need a heart to have it go/that is all the news you need to know." And for a cool ending, some old-fashioned Beatles Mellotron.
That's just two of the twenty cuts, and there's lots to write about each one. Add in his pleasing, high register vocals and by the time you're half-way in, you'll wish it was 40 cuts.