Chatting from an Austin tour stop (where he's performing with Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett), Ballard is humbled by his success. "To be honest, I am still having a bit of a hard time with it. I've been working this music a long time, so with a little success like this, it just makes me want to work even harder. I'm also very thankful to everyone who had a hand on the rock, pushing it up the hill."
What's the recipe for Ballard's success? "I love his energy," says programming consultant Joel Raab. "The guy's a born entertainer, and his songs are just plain fun."
Ballard is working on a new album, which he hopes will arrive this fall. "I just recorded a batch of songs at the Sonic Ranch studio in El Paso, Texas," he says. "I feel pretty good about them."
BIG 'BREAK': Carrie Underwood's new single "Smoke Break" soars onto Country Airplay at No. 24 with 14.4 million audience impressions following its Aug. 20 arrival, aided by hourly plays that afternoon and the following day on participating iHeartMedia stations. It opens at No. 36 on Hot Country Songs; following its retail launch Aug. 21, it should surge further on the Sept. 12 Hot Country Songs chart. "Smoke" is the first single from Underwood's fifth studio album, Storyteller (Oct. 23).
'LIGHTS' STILL BRIGHT: On Top Country Albums, Luke Bryan's Kill the Lights is No. 1 for a second week, holding atop the chart with 83,000 sold (down 74 percent) in the week ending Aug. 20. Kill the Lights also tops the all-genre Billboard 200 again, with sales of 99,000 equivalent albums.
"I have to give it all to the fans," says Bryan. "We really worked hard to put this new music together, and I'm so happy with what we created. But it's the fans who continue to give back to us and keep us wanting to do what we love."
STAMP OF APPROVAL: Elvis Presley debuts at No. 2 on Top Country Albums with Elvis Presley Forever, bowing with 27,000 sold. The U.S. Postal Service has released the collection in conjunction with the latest issue of the Forever stamp, which features a black-and-white photo of Presley taken in 1955. The post office (including its website) is the only outlet where fans can purchase the set, which features 18 classics by the King.
The new project marks Presley's best rank on Top Country Albums since Elvis: 30 #1 Hits debuted at No. 1 in October 2002. It's his 32nd top 10 (seven of which have hit No. 1), dating to his first, the No. 2-peaking From Elvis in Memphis, in 1969.
This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.