It’s been a fairly easy day training wise: 1o minutes of core, 25 minutes of pool running and an hour worth of CPR re-certification (seriously, nobody go and stop breathing around me as I’d really prefer not to use these skills if possible. Just sayin’…). And seeing as how I’m at the gym already, I figured why not hit the heavy iron for 45 minutes or so with the ‘Holding All the Roses‘ album by Blackberry Smoke.
This is another album that I was more or less blinded about when I downloaded it. I liked the name as it reminded me of Blackberry Blossom, so I guess I also had it figured it would also have a similar old-timey bluegrass feel to it.
But that’s okay!
As it turns out, Blackberry Smoke is an American Southern rock/country rock band from Atlanta, Georgia. Hey, at least I got the “Country” part right. They have performed throughout the United States both as headliner and as the supporting act for artists such as Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Most recently, they were the opening band for Gov’t Mule during their 2016 tour.
Really, the band could write the book on how to “slow build” a career. Since 2000, singer/guitarist Charlie Starr, guitarist Paul Jackson, keyboard player Brandon Still, and brothers Brit and Richard Turner on drums and bass, respectively, have played in excess of 250 dates a year in funky honky tonks, rock clubs, and on festival stages on both sides of the Atlantic, learning how to write songs in the process. ‘Holding All the Roses‘ is their Rounder debut, the follow-up to 2012’s ‘The Whippoorwill‘. It was recorded in less than two weeks, during a brief touring respite, with producer – and Georgia native – Brendan O’Brien (AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam).
There are no sprawling jams on this set – all 12 tunes are under five minutes making it ideal for a quickie weights session. Instead, The album showcases the band’s tightness and their considerable development as rock & roll songwriters. While the first single, ‘Rock & Roll Again‘, is down in the vein of their earlier work, it’s a bridge to the present: Starr’s voice struts and guitars boil. It feels like a young Dave Edmunds backed by the Outlaws. On ‘Let Me Help You (Find the Door)‘, Starr’s grainy, soulful voice moves heaven and earth, carried by twin guitars crashing into the rhythm section’s wall. The title track is a screaming stomp with blazing Southern guitar rock threaded with hot bluegrass flatpicking in late-’70s hard-jamming fashion. ‘Woman in the Moon‘ joins Southern psych with country rock. Still’s B-3 and electric piano, guest Ann Marie Simpson’s layered violins, and Blackjack Billy on backing vocals add spacy textures to solid grooves. ‘Wish in One Hand‘ is a floor-stomping, hard rock boogie with a singalong refrain colored by smoking twin guitar leads. The swaggering ‘Payback’s a Bitch‘ uses the riff ‘Dear Prudence‘ in heavy fashion, marrying it to blues rock crunch. ‘Lay It All on Me’, with acoustic guitar, pedal steel, and slide guitars alongside the rhythm section and B-3, weaves honky tonk to backporch swing to Texas R&B. ‘No Way Back to Eden‘ is exceptionally crafted. It uses country, folk-blues, and roots rock. One can hear trace influences from many sources, but the song’s character and imagination are all Blackberry Smoke’s.
The band’s writing prowess has evolved almost beyond measure here. Anthemic closer ‘Fire in the Hole‘ (the only song I didn’t really care for to be honest) recalls the band’s live sound wrapped inside a fat, slippery hook with a riff that is equal parts Lynyrd Skynyrd, early Aerosmith, and the James Gang. When an indie band gets a decent recording budget and teams with a big-name producer, often as not they blow it. Not these guys: their confidence matches their ability and it shows. ‘Holding All the Roses‘ delivers on every promise.
And I think the cover is Simply the Tits.
And with this workout in the bag, I’m heading home for a quiet afternoon to, hopefully, hash out some blog posts (this one included), spin some vinyl (posts forthcoming) and maybe plug through a few more chapters of my ‘Road Trip Rwanda: A Journey Into the Heart of New Arfrica‘ book by Will Ferguson.