For the past decade or so, Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke have been carrying the torch for gritty, ass kickin’ southern rock, which is clearly alive and well. Don’t let that tag scare you off; these guys are no paint by numbers Lynyrd Skynyrd or Outlaws tribute band. Though their roots are in that same dirt, they have been able to craft those influences of Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, Georgia Satellites and the Black Crowes and twist them into their own thing. They carry the Southern rock banner proudly.
With their new record Holding All the Roses — their fourth studio effort — they’ve come up with an impressive batch of 12 songs that wear their influences on their tattered sleeves while still sounding fresh and vibrant and expertly blending melodic pop smarts, Southern rock fire, and good old country comfort. Producer and fellow Atlanta native Brendan O’Brien takes control of the boards here, mixing in the right amount of grit and spit with just enough polish to make it shine, and in the process, captures the high energy of the band. He has worked with massive artists such as AC/DC, Pearl Jam, The Killers and Bruce Springsteen and represents somewhat of a feather in the cap for Blackberry Smoke, proving their star is definitely on the rise.
Things kick off with ‘Let Me Help You (Find the Door)’ which really rings out like some long lost Crowes classic, adorned with a driving Rolling Stones meets AC/DC style riff. Once the lead break rips in, the deal is sealed: These guys are out to rock and roll. The album’s title cut clips along in genuine “crank it up” mode. Mix in some Hammond B3 organ and fiddle? Yeah, why the hell not! Lead guitarist Paul Jackson has a great "cut to the chase" style that suits these songs perfectly. Another key selling point here is the vocal style of lead singer Charlie Starr. He is able to maintain a down home sort of feel, but doesn’t succumb to cliche. The band, thankfully, has a great melodic sense, which plays nicely off the s–t eatin’ grin rock and roll they are putting forth. Also of special note is keyboardist Brandon Still, who holds convincing court on piano and Hammond organ, and adds tasty keyboard accompaniment to the guitar-centric tracks.
‘Living in the Song’ is a pop rocking gem, while ‘Rock and Roll Again’ almost sounds like something from the songbook of NRBQ or Dave Edmunds — always good paths to roam. ‘Woman in the Moon’ finds the guys in ballad territory, and just before it starts to border on generic, they sidestep the obvious to include a sweet, almost George Harrison-esque guitar solo. ‘Too High’ is a straight forward country tune that rings as true on them as does the gritty rock and roll. Traces of the Stones and Faces run right alongside the dander of Steve Earle or Marty Stuart — but it never comes off as anything but sincere.
Most likely, ‘Wish in One Hand’ will have heads boppin’ and fists pumpin’ with its heavy riff and country cliches, but the lyrics are a bit too, shall we say, “down home.” Things get back on track with ‘Lay It All On Me’ — it’s another pure country number with some nice barroom piano and pedal steel guitar. The album ends with the riff heavy rocker, ‘Fire in the Hole,’ which manages to get in a funky section that recalls Rosco Gordon’s old R&B classic, ‘Just a Little Bit'.’ The song is the perfect way to wrap up the album. So in summary, this album is a breath of fresh air in an era of neatly packaged, polite power pop and it is, quite simply, a kick in the sonic behind.
By 2015 standards, Blackberry Smoke are probably too rock for the country radio, and too country for the rock stations — but I doubt they’re losing a whole lot of sleep over such pigeonholing. Simply put, if you like no frills, straight ahead ’70s styled Southern influenced rock, Blackberry Smoke will be right at home in your collection. They are certainly in mine......!!! Southern rock is alive and well, and Blackberry Smoke carry the banner proudly and long may they continue. I’d be really surprised if the band don’t continue to grow an even bigger fan base than they already have.
1. Let Me Help You (Find The Door)
2. Holding All The Roses
3. Living In The Song
4. Rock And Roll Again
5. Woman In The Moon
6. Too High
7. Wish In One Hand
8. Randolph County Farewell
9. Payback’s A Bitch
10. Lay It All On Me
11. No Way Back To Eden
12. Fire In The Hole
Wrinkly The Silver