Bo Armstrong “Chasing Ballads” (Tough Cut, 2020)

Bo Armstrong is a Texas-born singer-songwriter who has released his debut full-length album, ‘Chasing Ballads’, following his debut EP release in 2018. Fans of good quality songs that are part of the Texas and Austin tradition could do worse than give the album a listen, as while this may be a debut album, the songs are anything but tentative and show a maturity and compositional skill not always found on debut albums. This could be due to the fact that Bo Armstrong has had another life beyond that of a singer-songwriter and he has had the songwriting support of leading Texas songwriters Jon Randall, Jack Ingram and Liz Rose. Additionally, the album was recorded in Austin by Brian Douglas Phillips at his Rattle Trap Audio studios which strengthens the Texas connections even though Armstrong is now a Nashville resident.

When asked about ‘Chasing Ballads’ Armstrong has said “Chasing Ballads is about finding love you believe in and going after it. It’s about acknowledging your past and letting it motivate your future. It’s about finding the courage to live in the moment without throwing caution to the wind, and learning that so little in life can be accomplished on your own, even if the road you’re on is sometimes a lonely one.”. This view applies equally to Armstrong’s life experiences that have lead to the songs on his debut album. Armstrong may have been born in Dallas, Texas, but he spent 4 years playing NCAA ice hockey in upstate state New York and then, following his graduation, 2 years teaching for Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta. After a further 10 years living in New York, he persuaded his wife that they should move to Nashville and follow his dream of becoming a professional singer-songwriter.

‘Meet Me In Memphis’  gets the album off to a lively start with a tale of long-distance love. Love of the long-lasting kind is the subject of ‘Built To Last’ that uses a ’54 Gibson guitar and a ’68 Ford pick-up as metaphors.  Loneliness is explored next on ‘Where Are You, Lonesome’. The price of the sacrifices needed to be made for love is the subject of ‘Wildfire’. ‘Wearing Out These Wings’ is one of the lead tracks from the album and looks at the lost love of an imaginary trucker. Armstrong takes love home again on ‘Mama Sway’ written for his wife as she looks after their son with similar sentiments shown in ‘Here’s Looking At You, Kid’. ‘Dance With Me’ is about the excitement of a new love and where it may lead.  The album’s closing track, ‘You Know What I Look Like In The Dark’ is also probably the highlight track of ‘Chasing Ballads’.

With ‘Chasing Ballads’ and its exploration of all aspects of love, both of another individual and the passions we have in life, Bo Armstrong has achieved one of his own goals. While there is nothing particularly new on the album it is well written and well-produced making it something to be enjoyed in its own right, as well as a potential source of material for other artists. Bo Armstrong may just be starting his singer-songwriting career but he is an artist who deserves watching by fans of good songwriting.

A new and modern entry in the Texas songwriting tradition

About Martin Johnson 414 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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