To me, Blackberry Smoke is one of life’s biggest musical mysteries. As a guy who have never ever understood the greatness about Southern Rock, the mighty Blackfoot excluded, the odds didn’t exactly sky-rocket that I would become a fan. To be honest, when the guy who introduced me to the band offered to burn me a copy of their album A Little Piece Of Dixie (2009), I first declined. Why would I bother with Southern Rock, a genre I have never cared for in my life? But he was persistent and burned me a copy anyway, so I put in my player in my car, turned up the volume and by the time I got home, I was a fan. Today, I own all their albums and is happy as a child on Christmas whenever the news of a new Blackberry Smoke album surfaces. I still hold said album and its follow-up The Whipoorwill (2011) as my favorite Smoke-albums even though I really dig all of them. But in all honesty, I haven’t played their two latest efforts Holding All The Roses (2015) and Like An Arrow (2016) as much as the previous two for some reason. That said, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into the new one.
The guys open the album in the best of ways with “Flesh And Bone”. It starts somewhat hypnotic but the raunchy Rock sets in fast and when it does, it turns heavy, distorted, rough and moves into Hard Rock territory, grittier and more kicking than I would have expected. It’s very rhythmic and groovy but the tune is also full of hooks and the refrain takes to song on a home-run. It’s a great tune that will work as a perfect live opener for the band. In a classic Blackberry Smoke way comes “Run Away From It All” – Southern Rock with a 70’s Rolling Stones vibe and big pop vibe on top. It’s very authentic and dynamic – and it contains a refrain that totally kills. How awesome! The groove to “The Crooked Kind”, a Hard Rock twisted Southern Rock piece, is intense even though the tune comes in mid-tempo. It’s also heavy with a crunchy outlook and an in-your-face refrain, a refrain that isn’t catchy as such but still memorable. A very good album-track that sound fresh and vital.
“Medicate My Mind” starts out acoustic guitar based with a rhythmic swing and a Southern Rock twang in Country mode. It turns heavier when the tight rhythm section and the electric guitars come in and makes it a raw stomper. There’s also a middle-break jam that sounds like it could be taken from a 70’s detective novel like Kojak or Baretta – very cool. On a slower and more sensitive note, “I’ve Got This Song” takes on the first go at balladry. This is pretty much a typical American blue-collar Country-tinged ballad complete with a fiddle going in the background. It’s an ok song but I really have a difficulties dealing with sort of tunes so for me it doesn’t go anywhere. “Best Seat In The House” is a pop song that’s been given a Southern Rock treatment. It’s on the mainstream side of rock and it actually sends my thoughts to modern-day Bon Jovi. However, this is a very good tune and Bon Jovi are not. To me, this sounds like a single as the hit potential is enormous. Very good.
After a ballad and a pop song, the album needs to rock and that is taken care of by “I’ll Keep Ramblin'”, a classic Rock ‘n’ Roll tune with a good beat – very punchy and meaty. Even though the song rocks hard it also sports a gospel-vibe in the break, something the song benefits from. A great song that I can’t imagine them not playing live. “Seems So Far” is a slow, Country-flavoured Rock ballad that’s very down-to-earth, authentic and touching. The song’s main melody is extremely memorable and the refrain stick like a band-aid on the brain – a total winner. The mid paced “Lord Strike Me Dead” is a Classic Rock tune done southern style that holds a crunchy sound and an amazingly hooky gospel-like refrain that hits home right away. Brilliant! “Let Me Down Easy” is another ballad played in Country-Rock style. It features the fragile voice of singer Amanda Shires. It’s ok but it’s a bit too soft and cheesy for me.
“Nobody Gives A Damn” is more up my alley. It’s a fat, punchy, attitude laden Hard Rock bouncer, southern style. It’s very naked and raw with a punch in the gut stomp and a chorus catchy as can be. For them to play this one live is a must! Hell Yeah! “Till The Wheels Fall Off” might be in mid pace and a bit mellow but it still rocks with a Southern Rock groove. Blackberry Smoke closes the album on a more laid back and mellow note. “Mother Mountain” comes with a 60’s feel, based on acoustic guitar and mixes Pop, Rock and Country in the best of ways. It’s a stripped, heartfelt and emotional ballad that grabbed a hold of me after the first listen. Normally, I like a rocker to close a Rock album but this ballad does that job as splendid as any rocker could. Great!
I can admit that I was somewhat disappointed after I heard this album the first time. I thought it was good but it didn’t grab a hold of me at all. But all that changed – and then some – when I let the album rip through my head phones. This is a great album. I actually hold this their best since The Whipoorwill. That said, the album holds no surprises and is very much in the vein of the classic Blackberry Smoke records where they mix Classic Rock, Southern Rock, Country and twists of both Pop and Blues. On the production side, this album feels a bit heavier and rawer but at the same time the Pop vibes gives it a sense of smoothness. What makes this album a winner for me are the songs – apart from a couple of ballads that came off as a bit bland, this album contains songs with a striking strength. I don’t know if this album will bring them new fans – I hope it will – but I think it’s safe to say that any fan of the band will have a field-day with it.
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