Blackberry Smoke, ‘Holding All the Roses’ – Album Review
For the past decade or so, Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke have been carrying the torch for gritty, ass kickin’ southern rock. Don’t let that tag scare you off; these guys are no paint by numbers Lynyrd Skynrd or Outlaws tribute band.
With their new record — their fourth studio effort — they’ve come up with an impressive batch of songs that wear their influences on their tattered sleeves while still sounding fresh and vibrant. Producer 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. “We were excited to work with Brendan for so many reasons,” drummer Brit Turner said when the LP was announced. “One being that he gets us and we don’t have to explain where we’re coming from, which hasn’t always been the case in the past. We were all on the same page about the music, so we could just get down to business.”
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.
‘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.
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.
And for those who might be a bit leery of such tags as “southern rock,” don’t worry; there is a lot more here than meets the ear of corn: These guys are the genuine article.