Review by Taf Rock for MPM
It’s been a while. Three long years to be precise since Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke released a studio album.
Their last opus being the critically acclaimed tip of the hat to their native state – 2021’s You Hear Georgia. And so it’s an invitation I am more than happy to accept when Charlie Starr and his fellow southern rockers – Brandon Still (keyboards), Richard Turner (bass/vocals), Brit Turner (drums), Paul Jackson (guitar/vocals) – ask me to Be Right Here and celebrate their eighth studio album since they formed in 2001.
The quintet are joined on the Dave Cobb production by guest musicians Preston Holcomb (drums) and Benji Shanks (guitar) whilst fellow Georgian duo The Black Bettys provide superb backing vocals as evidenced on our opener Dig A Hole where they invite us to join them and ‘sing like it’s a brand new thing’.
Charlie and the band open proceedings with the lead single from the album in a laid back chilled out style. A swampy groovy riff invites us to relax with the band as they enquire ‘What are you gonna go with your life?’, ‘which fork in the road … you gonna follow?’. A wonderful Brandon Still/Charlie Starr creation which is brought to a close with Still’s exceptional talents on the keyboards to the fore.
‘Daddy ran away with the circus … it must have been the greatest show on earth’ – Charlie introduces Hammer And The Nail backed by acoustic guitar before the band ramp things up and rock out in unison. Co-written by Starr and former Buckcherry guitar slinger Keith Nelson this up-beat track features bar-room style keys amongst the crazy rifforama of the guitars and bass as we relive the story of a son weighing up whether to give in to his wilder side and follow the path of ‘my daddy before me’.
A guitar sound reminiscent of rock legends Rolling Stones forms the backbone of bluesy rocker Like it Was Yesterday. ‘Have you ever seen the moon this big and this bright?’ enquires Charlie as we recall the good things in life experienced by the subject of the song. ‘Run wild like we are living in sin … before tomorrow comes and takes it away’. ‘You can’t take it with you… we’ll all be empty handed come judgment day’ so enjoy yourself while you can the message behind this feelgood rock ‘n’ roll number.
‘See it from a mile away … light shining on your smiling face … everybody’s waiting for you … it’s a charmed life you’re walking through … I should Be So Lucky‘. Atop a slow deliberate drumbeat, a crawling swampy rhythm laden with Brandon Still keys ‘comes sailing in on the breeze’ as Charlie relays the story of one more fortunate then him. We all know the sort, the fortunate individuals who ‘nothing can touch’, ‘every door is thrown wide open’ as they ‘get away with it every time … whilst the rest of us are toeing the line’.
The acoustic folk-like ballad Azalea (co-written by Starr and country star Travis Meadows) laments a sorrowful tale of a lost soul ‘withered to the bone’ trying to return home to a place where they can feel safe and ‘bloom again’. ‘Do you hear those voices calling for you?’. The track ends on a typical Blackberry Smoke optimistic outlook – ‘coming back don’t mean leaving here was wrong … home will always be right here … half the learning’s in the leaving’. A well intentioned message, let those closest to you explore their aspirations and live their lives but welcome them back to the fold and give them credit for trying even if they fail.
We return to the rockier side of Blackberry Smoke with Don’t Mind If I Do. ‘You won’t ever see me dragging my tail…can’t seem to fail’. Lively piano from Brandon Still fuelled by the rocking rhythms of the Turner brothers. ‘No hard times left … took all my blues away … grab yourself a fist full of everything’. Starr features on an impressive lead break.
The wonderful laid-back swagger of Watcha No Good could only be Blackberry Smoke. Charlie’s vocal style in conjunction with his blues tinged guitar fits the slow drawn out nature of this track (co-written by producer Dave Cobb’s cousin country music star Brent Cobb) like a hand fits a glove. There’s no room for negativity here ‘I love all my sisters ‘n’ brothers… I don’t worry… Don’t get in a hurry’. Lay back, chill out, forget the troubles of the world we live in and enjoy a dose of quality Southern Rock served Blackberry Smoke style. Where else can you find lyrics as unique and vivid as ‘no reason to fight… If the fish don’t bite’.
Other Side of the Light – co-written with fellow Georgian musician Levi Lowrey – reinforces the importance of family life previously referred to throughout Azalea. A track which tells a tale of a youngster facing the hazards of life during his journeys away from home and how his mother will always offer him protection and safety back home. Opening with a brief acoustic guitar intro, a delightful bluesy country style guitar lick reminiscent of The Allman Brothers accompanies the band as we embark on our journey. ‘Look out in the distance, see the firelight of the night… the embers are rising, the ashes fall like rain’. Envisage playing the part of the young lad – ‘stumble through the valley … praying for daylight again’. Mum ‘walks you through the shadows … gives me shelter til the new dawn breaks’. ‘Don’t worry about the darkness’ … positivity and creativity walk hand in hand throughout this album.
Little Bit Crazy opens with The Black Bettys and Charlie providing a delightful gospel choir. This time we play the part of an individual who is enjoying himself not necessarily in the safest and healthiest of manners. As the choir gives way Brandon Still’s keys provide a pathway for a classic foot-tapping sing-a-long Southern Rock number to develop. This sort of number a staple ingredient of every Smoke album to date, the kind that keeps us fans ‘coming back every time’ in our droves, it’s sure to become a welcome feature of their live sets. Don’t worry about the ‘trouble I’m gonna get into’ as Blackberry Smoke ‘make it look so easy’ – a band in complete unison filling the air with superlative, irresistible and memorable music. Guaranteed to ‘get you moving’ as the band ‘drive you outta your mind’.
We close proceedings with a power ballad. Barefoot Angel is driven by Brandon Still on the organ. A rare example of a Charlie Starr love song. ‘Overexposed to the storms that keep coming in hard’ Charlie is ‘thankful’ to his partner for being ‘in this with me’. The one true rock in his life that makes him ‘smile every once in awhile’ – he ‘can’t feel the danger when I’m under your wing’.
It’s been a while. Three long years but boy it’s been worth the wait. Be Right Here – each track sheer quality. Descriptive stories we can all relate to, permeated with identifiable and meaningful lyrics whilst the music contains all variations of the tried and tested Blackberry Smoke portfolio, from full-on rockers to chilled out and laid back ballads. A band we can all rely on to make us feel at ease, a band that makes everything feel fine and dandy in life.
Listen to “Hammer And The Nail:” https://ffm.to/bbshammerandthenail
Presave the new album, Be Right Here: https://ffm.to/bbsberighthere
Follow Blackberry Smoke: https://www.blackberrysmoke.com