Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Blackberry Smoke’s 2021 release ‘You Hear Georgia’ is a fabulous slice of Southern-inspired hokum that rocks like it’s 1977, yet somehow still feels fresh and current.
This is in no small part due to Dave Cobb’s excellent production, which gives the whole thing the perfect balance between the raw live feel you expect from the best Southern Rock and the studio polish that today’s listeners want to hear.
Apparently, the band have been around for 20 years – well, there’s certainly nothing in this album to suggest that they are losing any of their creative spark. It’s a monster album celebrating all that’s great about the South and proving just what a great band Blackberry Smoke actually are.
It’s hard to pick and choose between the songs on this album, as there’s not a weak one in sight. Opener ‘Live It Down’ is a monster piece of 70s inspired bluesy rock, with an irresistible groove and some killer female backing vocals adding harmonies to the choruses. It’s one helluva way to open the album and is the perfect statement of intent!
Next up is the excellent title track; a mid-paced bluesy Southern-Rock groover which adds subtle layers of bottleneck slide into the mix, giving it a cool Lynryd Skynyrd kinda vibe.
The female backing vocals are back for the almost annoyingly catchy ‘Hey Delilah’, a track which is further enhanced by some very cool piano tinkling around behind the guitars and massed harmony vocals. Bottleneck slide guitars add some lovely Southern flavour to this track also. It’s easy to imagine this one being played on acoustic guitars on a front porch on a sultry summer Georgia evening.
‘Ain’t The Same’ loses the riffs and focuses on a more country-rock style; there’s more than a hint of classic Eagles about this track which provides an excellent contrast to what has gone before yet still sounds absolutely cohesive within the context of album as a whole. This is an incredibly radio-friendly track, with one helluva melodic chorus. Absolutely brilliant!
The boys then slip into some classic old-school Country stylings for ‘Lonesome For A Livin.’ There’s more than a hint of classic Willie Nelson about this track, especially in the vocal tone. Pedal steel guitars weep dramatically in the mix making this as Country as you can get! Jamey Johnson’s vocal guest spot on here evokes classic Merle Haggard. Wonderful stuff!
‘All Rise Again’ takes us back to the down and dirty Southern Rock riffs and features a guest spot from Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers & Govt Mule.) This track also tips a nod to classic Skynyrd, but retains its own identity by virtue of the superb production and the strength of the songwriting.
The band drop the pace again for the acoustic-led ‘Old Enough to Know’, which is a superb Country/Americana ballad. Full of beautiful fingerstyle acoustic guitar and subtle slide guitars, it’s the perfect ballad for this album. Lyrically, it works perfectly too; the boys have been round the block a time or two and this song is a beautiful document about life’s ups and downs.
Nasty, dirty rock riffs return again for the mid-paced ‘Morningside’, a real stomper of a track that will absolutely kill live! There’s a ton of space in the production on this track which only serves to make it sound bigger and the harmony laden chorus explodes when it hits. The vocals are particularly fine on this one and the guitar solos lift it further. Absolute perfection!
The pace picks up again for the high energy ‘All Over the Road’, which is another stunning piece of Southern Rock. Honky-tonk piano and rock n roll guitar chording adds a brilliant touch to the choruses here, with more of the slide guitar that the boys love so much adding that sweet Southern flavour.
The album wraps up with ‘Old Scarecrow’ which starts off with a beautifully swampy guitar riff and an emotive vocal, before everything kicks in for the massive chorus.
The bottleneck guitar solo on this one is particularly fine. The dynamics in the production and arrangement are stunning here too, with some superb keyboard playing adding colour to the choruses and with excellent use of light and shade in the arrangement. This is how to close an album!
In conclusion, this entire album is a complete masterclass in how to write and perform Southern Rock. It has everything from stomping bluesy rock anthems and swampy Southern grooves to sweet Americana and pure Country, yet still sounds totally cohesive throughout.
This truly is a band at the very top of their game! If you’re into any of the classic Southern Rock bands from the past or if you’ve enjoyed Blackberry Smoke’s previous albums, you should pick this up instantly and without a moment’s hesitation. It’s absolutely brilliant from start to finish!
Official music video for “All Rise Again” feat. Warren Haynes, from Blackberry Smoke’s new album out May 28th produced by Dave Cobb. ALL RISE AGAIN: https://orcd.co/youheargeorgia
Follow Blackberry Smoke: https://www.blackberrysmoke.com