BGO's 2013 double-disc set combines Russ Ballard's first three albums: 1975's Russ Ballard, its 1976 sequel Winning, and 1979's At the Third Stroke. Ballard began his solo career after leaving Argent in 1974, around the time when he already began to rack up hits as a songwriter, and during the entire length of his solo career -- which would run another decade, all things considered -- he wound up achieving greater success behind the scenes than in front of the mike. This three-fer suggests reasons why for both. On each of these three records, Ballard demonstrates an ear for cavernous arena rock hooks as well as a sticky sentimental side that translated well into power ballads and he also willingly follows fashion, incorporating elements of disco and not being above copping a few moves from Andrew Gold ("Born on Halloween"). All of these are attributes and they strengthen as he gets further into his solo career -- Winning is a peak but At the Third Stroke has its AOR moments, sounding like a good, squarer, less adventurous companion to Alan Parsons Project -- but he never was a compelling frontman and also tended to favor polite yet overblown mixes to muscle. This meant Rainbow could poach "Since You Been Gone" and turn it into the arena rocker it was destined to be but it also meant that Ballard's records remain curiosities of the '70s, embodying so much of the sound and spirit of the time without actually being notable within it. That contradiction meant that these three records were stiffs at the time but they're worth hearing now as they capture all the AOR commercial trends that were commonplace in the '70s but have since been forgotten.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2