Review: Blackberry Smoke – ‘You Hear Georgia’

Blackberry Smoke returns with studio album number seven ‘You Hear Georgia’, an album of firsts, including; the first album to feature the new seven-strong line-up which now boasts a triple-guitar attack, nine-strong if you also include the lush backing vocals from The Black Bettys, and also the first time that award-winning producer Dave Cobb has worked with the band.

Country? Or Southern Rock? Or maybe even Southern Country-Rock? To be honest, there are plenty of things going on in the world right now that deserve dwelling over, and debating, but which genre to place Blackberry Smoke in, isn’t one of them. Just go with the flow, and let ‘You Hear Georgia’ whisk you away to a simpler world. Have a hankering for some gorgeous lap-steel Country? Then feast on ‘Lonesome For A Livin’, a beautiful Charlie Starr-penned lament played at a waltz-like pace with a guest vocal from Jamey Johnson, drop the lap-steel, change up some of the lyrics, and you have the basis of a killer-blues song: loss, heartache, redemption…”I lived all the lyrics/For better or for worse/The drinkin ’the cheatin ’and the lyin’/I guess I walked it/Just how I talked it/Both eyes wide open but stone blind”. ‘Old Enough To Know’ is another softer, gentler, lap-steel-tinged track, and one that is so laid-back, it’s practically horizontal. Want something a bit bluesier? Try ‘All Rise Again’ on for size, for this Charlie Starr/Warren Haynes co-write is something special indeed. Featuring a guest appearance from Haynes on co-vocals and guitar, it’s a track (with a plethora of sublime and other-worldly guitar tones) that on the outside seems so simple, but many other artists would fall at the first hurdle in trying to replicate the organic, right-here-right-now gem. Incidentally, these three tracks form the crucial midsection of ‘You Hear Georgia’, and offer up an unforgettable 12 minutes or so.

Blackberry SmokeAs touched on earlier, ‘You Hear Georgia’ is the first Blackberry Smoke album to feature the new triple-guitar front line of Starr, Paul Jackson, and slide player Benji Shanks, and there are plenty of guitar fireworks on display throughout. Never flash, or overplayed, just great playing with some beautiful tones, best exemplified on the cool-breeze of ‘Morningside’ which features solo’s from all three guitarists. Opener ‘Live It Down’ is an uptempo number that might just open the live shows when they do return, and it features a funky-ass guitar solo midsong which plays out over a lush organ sound from Brandon Still, coupled with the warm backing vocals from The Black Bettys, it’s a fantastic way to launch an album. The title-track is a cautionary tale of never judging a book by its cover, and is a great example of how strong a songwriter Starr is. It also features some stunning slide playing from Shanks, who has a major role throughout the album, and puts his mark everywhere; the rollicking ‘All Over The Road’ being just one example.

Ultimately, it’s all about the songs, and ‘You Hear Georgia’ is ten tracks of well-written, well-played songs, and try as you might, you will not be able to shake the melodies of cooler-than-ice-cold ‘Hey Delilah’ from your mind, and might just find yourself singing the chorus at the most inopportune moments, such as the McDonalds drive-thru just as the machine comes to life and the person asks you for your order.

Produced by the man often referred to as the ‘Musician’s Producer’, at the world-famous RCA Studio A in Nashville, ‘You Hear Georgia’ might be an album of firsts, but it certainly continues the hot streak from arguably the most consistent, and reliable band out there today.

‘You Hear Georgia’ is available now via 3 Legged Records/Thirty Tigers.

Header photo credit – Jo Lopez

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