Review: Blackberry Smoke – ‘Be Right Here’

Delivering the goods in the form of a new studio album every 2.5 years or so, Blackberry Smoke has gone from strength to strength on each outing, and even the most cynical of cynics would be hard-pressed to come up with a Blackberry Smoke album that falls below par. The evolution of ‘Smoke frontman Charlie Starr into a songwriter of some standing has played a major role in their continued success, however, the sense of community that the likable Atlanteans have created should not be forgotten. Neither should be the way that the seven-piece make it look effortless, to quote Starr on the ass-shaking ‘Little Bit Crazy’, the penultimate track on studio album number 8 ‘Be Right Here’: “…you always make it look so easy…”.

Produced by Grammy Award-winning producer-du-jour Dave Cobb, ‘Be Right Here’ begins in a controlled, slower, sleazier way with the gnarly funky strut of ‘Dig A Hole’. In places, it’s Aerosmith crossing 110th Street to meet up with Funkadelic. In others, it is full to the brim with Southern Rock trademarks, including some gorgeous female backing vocals (courtesy of The Black Bettys) and guitar solos that sizzle. If you are listening through a decent pair of cans, then pay attention for some subtle (but utterly sublime) percussion from Preston Holcomb. Not the traditional full-pelt album opener, but Blackberry Smoke does things their way.

It’s possible to split ‘Be Right Here’ into songs that rock out, and songs that take it easy and are in no hurry to get to their destination. ‘Hammer And The Nail’ is a strong example of the band meshing both. The acoustic leanings at the intro and peppered throughout are very Zeppelin III-like and hint at one direction that the song might go off in, only for the band to floor it and go off in the opposite direction. With a stellar drum sound from the always-impeccable Brit Turner, it’s great fun, and coming in at under 3 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The guitar work from Starr – aided and abetted throughout the album by Paul Jackson and Benji Shanks – is as you would expect: gorgeous. This one is gonna (ahem) smoke when played live, and that honky tonk keyboard sound from Brandon Still is certainly going to get the party started.

Having 3 guitarists in the band is always going to make an album guitar-heavy and ‘Be Right Here’ is no exception; ‘Like It Was Yesterday’ is full of life and there is a great moment toward the end when the combination of differing guitar tones is breathtaking (including some gorgeous slide guitar), especially when you realize that the album was recorded organically as Starr explains: “We always track live together, but this time we had all our amps and drums and everything in the same room. It’s just as natural and as real as possible.” The shimmering psychedelic strains of ‘Be So Lucky’ are another highlight, and showcase another aspect of the earthy sound that Blackberry Smoke is capable of creating. Like most iconic bands (AC/DC, The Stones, Motörhead) Blackberry Smoke has a signature sound. A sound that makes them instantly recognisable. And ‘Little Bit Crazy’ is that sound. Check it out and drool open-mouthed at Paul Jackson’s solo 3-minutes in.

Those songs talked about earlier that take it easy, land with the alright-alright-alright strains of ‘Azalea’ – a song that is so cool it glides rather than walks – the Tom Petty-fuelled ‘Whatchu Know Good’ (a song deserving of mainstream attention, and not just for the beautiful guitar solo and the subtle backing vocals from The Black Bettys), and closing track ‘Barefoot Angel’, a simple love song which might just end up being your favorite BBS song of the last 10 years or so. Expertly controlled by bassist Richard Turner, it’s one of those moments where, in the hands of others, might turn into a saccharine-filled by-the-numbers ballad. No worry about that here, and it closes the album for a reason.

With Aerosmith hanging up their spurs (it’s on, it’s off, it’s back on again, it’s back off again) and The Eagles saying goodbye (again), there is a huge gap to be filled in the realms of American rock and roll and the “Blue Army” require new saviors. Dirty Honey is a good shout for the future. Great band, even if vocalist Marc Labelle is guilty at times of straying too far into Steven Tyler-parody territory. But for that all-encompassing blue-collar sound that crosses genres with ease, then Georgia’s Blackberry Smoke is in pole position to step up and become “America’s Greatest Rock and Roll band”. Hell, they’ve been doing it anyway for 20+ years, all they need now is the actual crown.

If only everything in life was as consistently good as a new album from Blackberry Smoke. For one, it sure as hell would be a whole lot easier.

Available February 16th via 3 Legged Records/Thirty Tigers. Pre-order here.

Review – Dave

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