While band leader Charlie Ballantine went a more traditional jazz route on his 2015 debut, Green, he has allowed more styles to permeate his second release, Providence. In doing so, Ballantine manages to stay close to his roots while exploring new territory sonically. Backed by a crack band, including Amanda Gardier on saxophone, Josh Espinoza on organ, Conner Green on bass and Josh Roberts on drums, Providence is an exciting listen that showcases these former Indiana University students' considerable chops.
The album mixes six Ballantine originals with three well-chosen covers. "Old Hammer" starts things off with a crackling sound, like an old record player, before the band locks into a tight, swampy groove. Ballantine's playing is laid back and bluesy here, serving the song and Espinoza delivers a killer organ solo on this strong opener. The title track showcases some melodic playing and fantastic drumming from Roberts. Ballantine allows himself to turn loose a bit more here, but still stays within the song, allowing his excellent band to share the spotlight.
On Stephen Foster's "Gentle Lana Clare," Ballantine shows off some intricate finger picking with drums to match from Roberts. Roberts proves a great foil for Ballantine throughout. Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah" has seemingly been covered to death, but the group turns in an emotional reading nonetheless. Gardier shows off her considerable range on sax for the song's first half before giving way to Ballantine midway through. The song builds to a powerful ending as the group works hard to make this song their own.
Ballantine takes a rock turn on the blistering "Roads." The song features a heavy riff and Ballantine's playing is reminiscent of Mick Taylor on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking." Espinoza gives a scorching organ solo on this standout track. The album ends on an optimistic note with the gospel-tinged "Hopeful Mind." Espinoza and Gardier give great performances on this uplifting closer.
On Providence, Ballantine starts out with a strong jazz foundation and then adds layers of other music upon it. The results are an exciting mix of music both familiar and new and show that there was no sophomore slump for Ballantine.