Like many artists before her, Kelsea Ballerini has been told she shouldn’t play too much of her new album, Unapologetically, in her headlining shows this winter and spring. The album has only been out since November, so fans might not know the new material and could be disappointed if the show features too many new selections.
Ballerini is not heeding that advice for her tour. She intends to play Unapologetically pretty much in its entirety to make up the main body of her show.
“I think because it is small venues and it is headlining, the people that are there are going to know the album,” she said in a late-January phone interview. “So I just kind of want to tell it like the story it is and be able to kind of share the behind the scenes of the making of it and all that. And the encore will be my first four singles.
“For me, it was just really important to play my album and to see it connect because it’s so close to my heart,” Ballerini said.
Ballerini, with guest Walker Hayes, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, at Bell Auditorium. Tickets are $36.50 and $26.50 from georgialinatix.com, (877) 428-4849, and the James Brown Arena box office.
What should work in Ballerini’s favor is the fact that Unapologetically is only her second album. It’s not like she’s leaving a long list of hits and fan favorite songs out of her show.
Unapologetically follows a 2015 debut album, The First Time, that indeed produced four singles – three of which, Love Me Like You Mean It, Dibs and Peter Pan topped the Billboard magazine Country Airplay chart. The fourth single, Yeah Boy, went top 3 at Country Airplay.
But while Ballerini’s career was getting off to a terrific start, things weren’t going as well on a personal level for the now-25-year-old native of Knoxville, Tenn. As the hits were coming, Ballerini was seeing things go sour with a boyfriend. The difficult breakup that resulted provides the starting point for the Unapologetically album.
The album opens with Graveyard, a delicate ballad on which Ballerini wrestles with heartbreak and emotional bruises of the relationship, while promising she’ll pick up the pieces and move on. The next track, Miss Me More, laments the notion that Ballerini lost her identity and sense of independence while caught up in the romance and rush of love.
“I forgot I had dreams/Forgot I had wings/Forgot who I was/Before I ever kissed you,” Ballerini sings.
“I think the best thing you can do after a breakup is just realize what you learned from it and realize the positives,” Ballerini said. “You realize what you do want to be like and what you don’t want to be like and all that stuff. And I think that was a really crucial relationship for me of learning that stuff.”
As the album moves into its fifth song, things shift from loss into the second chapter of the story – life. Over the course of the songs Machine Heart, In Between, High School and End of the World, listeners hear Ballerini rediscovering her sense of self and her confidence, rebuilding her life, moving into adulthood and finding the footing she needs for whatever comes next in her life.
The final four songs on Unapologetically introduce that next chapter – new love.
In spring 2016, Ballerini traveled to Australia to co-host an awards show with Aussie country artist Morgan Evans. Sparks flew and the two have been together since. The title song pretty much tells the story of love re-entering Ballerini’s life and her finding herself willing to go all in on with her new beau and ready to take their journey together, wherever it may lead.
That’s exactly what Ballerini has done in real life, as she and Evans married in December in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Life sounds pretty magical for the couple so far.
“Everyone has been asking me like ‘So what’s different? What’s different?’ I’m like ‘Nothing, that’s why we got married. I didn’t want anything to be different,’ ” Ballerini said, offering her thoughts on her marriage. “I think that’s the best part. That’s the comfort. It’s just like we’re so content in our lives separately and together and we were both so focused on our careers (last year), it was amazing to take really two months to just celebrate the holidays and celebrate getting married with all the people that we love and have nothing change. That’s the best part.”
Musically, Unapologetically largely sticks to the template of The First Time to create a warm, mainly mid-tempo and ballad-oriented soundtrack to her stories.
While several songs are rooted in country, Unapologetically also has a pop dimension. Machine Heart, End of the World and I Hate Love Songs are among the songs that lean pop and even incorporate synthetic tones and rhythms into the mix.
Now Ballerini hopes to help fans get to further know the music, messages and the woman behind Unapologetically with the headlining show she will bring to fans this winter and spring.
“I’ve written some monologues that will play over some music during the show, and we’ve shot video content that matches the lyrics of some of the songs,” she said. “So it’s really going to be an experience, like a Broadway musical but a country show is the best way I can describe it.”