BLACKBERRY SMOKE – Holding All The Roses

0004009103_200Southern Rock and I are not the best of friends. I really needed to open this review with that statement. Ok, so I really like old Blackfoot, but I actually prefer them when they went melodic rock with Ken Hensley (ex-Uriah Heep) in the band. But other than them, I have never ever heard a southern rock band that I dig, even though I have a soft spot for John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival. People has been on my case about Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special and Molly Hatchet, to name a few, for a long, long time, but I really can’t stand those bands at all. Never could and I guess I never will. That’s why Blackberry Smoke are something of a head scratcher for yours truly. I really shouldn’t like them – at all. But when a friend of mine more or less shoved their 2009 album Little Piece Of Dixie on a burned CD down my throat, I could do nothing but surrender, after only one spin. That album was bought on the spot! That’s why I was majorly pissed off that I missed their gig at Sweden Rock Festival 2010. My throat shoving friend attended that gig and, just like everybody else who saw them there, had nothing but praise for the band and the gig. I skipped it because I’m not a fan of Southern rock… That was also the reason my friend threw that burned CD on me. And boy, am I happy today that he was so persistent on getting me to give that band a shot. But no matter how much I liked Little Piece Of Dixie, it was nothing compared to the knock out the follow-up The Whippoorwill (2012) gave me. Of course, there was no turning back now – I have to call myself a fan of a Southern rock band and yes, I had to purchase their brilliant debut album Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime (2004) as well. When the band announced that a new album was on its way, expectations became sky-high, of course. That they had hired producer Brendan O’Brien (AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against The Machine, King’s X, Korn, Audioslave, Velvet Revolver), didn’t exactly lower my expectations either. Because, within all their greatness, if there was one thing I have missed on Blackberry Smoke’s records, it’s heaviness. Don’t get me wrong, Blackberry Smoke have always had a wicked groove and rocked with the best of them, but a big slice of heaviness have never killed anyone. My hope is that with O’Brien at the rudder, he will steer this boat to heavier edges. What I was completely sure of, though, was that they would not disappoint me. I don’t think that a producer like Brendan O’Brien would have touched a band like Blackberry Smoke, had they not come up with the goods song wise.

 Opener “Let Me Help You (Find The Door)” has apparently heard my prayers for heaviness and rocks me hard. It sounds like O’Brien’s work with AC/DC has rubbed off on Blackberry Smoke because the song sounds like a more southern rock version of AC/DC on an acoustic foundation – great! The title track brings up their bluegrass roots on top the rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a classic southern rock song with a guitar solo that is almost metal. Things takes a slower turn with the Southern rock half ballad “Living In The Song”. The chorus has an instant hook and I’m sure this will end up a single sooner or later. “Rock And Roll Again” has a more or less self explanatory title. This is classic rock with a big groove and I’m thinking of Dan Baird and / or The Georgia Satellites in their finest moments. “Woman In The Moon” spells HIT! The album’s first real ballad is mellow, but heartfelt and emotional and this is the song that could break them big – don’t waste it, guys.. “Wish In One Hand” (…”shit in the other”…. love the lyrics on this one!)  is an extremely groovy southern hard rock song with a catchy as hell melody. One of my favourite songs here is “Payback’s A Bitch”, a heavy southern rock – no a heavy southern hard rock tune with both AC/DC and Led Zeppelin vibes. I have always had a problem with both blues and country alone. A few songs here and there, then – jawn! But mixed with rock or pop, both works just fine. That’s why “No Way Back To Eden” works so brilliantly. It’s a slow rock ballad that has both blues and country in the mix and it works like a charm. Closing “Fire In The Hole” is a slow and heavy rocker on the harder side of Southern rock that also contains trippy moments where you can almost smell old “Mary Jane” come walking through the door.
What I’m hearing here is a band that does not save any gunpowder for later, firing on all cylinders no matter if they play a kick-ass rocker or a mellow ballad. Speaking of ballads, that is the only thing I can complain about here – there are too many of those or ballad-ish songs. Not that any of them are bad, I just like to have more fast songs than slow ones. As a band, Blackberry Smoke has kept their sound, but with Brendan O’Brien on the production task, they do sound heavier and more “hard rock” than before. That is an improvement, in my world. Blackberry Smoke has now released four fantastic albums full of groovy, catchy, honest and emotional albums and judging by the high quality of their productions and their constant touring, the time is now right for this band to get their big break – it’s Blackberry Smoke’s turn to become massive and a huge headliner act for the arenas. Speaking of which, this band has been playing my native Sweden two times (that I know of) after their highly rated gig at Sweden Rock Festival and I have managed to miss them both times – how’s that for a fan, huh? That’s why the news that Sweden Rock has booked them for the 2015 festival made yours truly a real happy camper. I know it in my bones, 2015 will be the big year for this lot. Let’s help them with that, shall we?
Jon Wilmenius (9/10)
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

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