October 25, 2016 Blackberry Smoke – Like An Arrow (Album Review)
Looking for a band who can roll back the years to a time when flares were fashionable, the internet was a futuristic concept, and the summer seemed to last forever? Then Blackberry Smoke may peak some interest. A blend of Southern Rock, Blues, Gospel, Soul and a huge helping of Country on the side, with a focus on rich three-part harmonies and a little bit of bar room shuffle, Blackberry Smoke have it all. Formed in the early 2000’s down in Georgia, they have toured all over the USA and shared the stage with everyone from ZZ Top to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Releasing a list of albums along the way, 2015’s Holding All the Roses debuted at #1 on Country charts and #29 on the Billboard 200. Now, a little over a year later, they return with their new album, Like An Arrow.
Their fifth overall studio offering, recorded in Quarry Records down in Kennesaw, Georgia, and completely self-produced, it is their second via Rounder Records. Released on October 14, 2016, hot on the heels of their much celebrated Holding All The Roses, the line up remains as before, with Charlie Starr (guitar/lead vocals), brothers Brit (drums) and Richard Turner (bass), along with Paul Jackson (guitar/vocals) as well as Brandon Still (keys). Enjoying the limelight, being hailed as the savior of County and of Southern Rock, Blackberry Smoke refuse to be pigeon-holed into one specific genre, but instead straddle as many as possible like some bad-ass rodeo rider who has his spurs caught in the reins and yet still looks cool.
Not defined by any specific genre rules, they have created the music they most enjoy with no constraints, the end result is a step back in time. It all starts with “Waiting For The Thunder,” which has the elements of Southern Rock that will draw comparisons to Lynyrd Skynyrd, it feels good with a vibe of ’70s keys, tambourine, and even some clapping, as it delivers its dark warning. Pure Country with a slice of Honkey-Tonk piano and a beat that will have line dancers on their feet, “Let It Burn” truly gets the party started. Then, “The Good Life” is a song about learning from our elders, and enjoying life, it takes the rocking chair to the front porch and pours the listener a warming Bourbon while they watch the sun go down. It is a song about family, and will leave one with a smile and a tear, sentimental as well as heart-warming.
Next, some Bar Room Blues/Skiffle takes the audience on a different journey, to the seedy side of town. That comes with “What Comes Naturally,” which has a laid-back, fun groove and a charming live feel to it. Thereafter, “Running Through Time” waltzes along prettily, lamenting upon the common theme of making the most of what life has to give, before its gone. Title track “Like An Arrow” takes the same theme, but with a bit more grind, it is more macho, with a deep, driving bass-line that works brilliantly with the huge harmonies in the chorus. Next, the song “Ought To Know” is a musical ‘told you so,’ unsure who it is aimed at, but it could apply to so many; a tale of people hitting the big time only to fall. Continuing on with a similar theme, “Sunrise in Texas” refers to the way that life on tour can sometime leave bands disconnected from the real world. Cushioned from the harshness of life in a safe cocoon, as life only happens in those few hours on stage, it is easy to lose touch with reality, and this is a fitting song to exemplify such.
Bringing on a Bluegrass style, “Ain’t Gonna Wait” features a Banjo and Mandolin with a sense of the mid-life crisis. This is before “Workin’ For A Workin’ Man” comes on with a grittier, faster-paced offering with a nod to the band’s blue-collar beginnings. That said, it is a song many will relate to being about how hard it can be to make ends meet when you work at the bottom of the pile. More funky, with a devilish groove, “Believe You Me” shares more with Lenny Kravitz than Southern Rock, showing a completely different side to the band, one that is quite soulful and smooth. Concluding the ride, “Free On The Wing” features Southern Rock legend Gregg Allman lending his vocals to the mix. Offering a voice that is more gravelly, it blends well with Starr, winding the album down in a fine fashion.
Blackberry Smoke have managed to create the musical equivalent of a comfy pair of slippers and a cup of cocoa. That picture painted, Like An Arrow is perfectly suited to autumn, a time to curl up in a chair with something to warm you and remind you of summer. Overall, it is a pleasant listen with a fascinating journey across many genres, each song is different, unusual, and all are skillfully put together, but it is very retro. Apart from one song, it also ambles along at a fairly chilled pace. Relaxed and gentle, it will certainly comfort you after a long day at work. CrypticRock gives Like An Arrow 4 out of 5 stars.