Aug
14

Blackberry Smoke’s “Whippoorwill” & Southern Rock

August 14, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  31 Comments

Try telling Blackberry Smoke that genres don’t matter in modern music. In many ways they don’t, and in many ways they are absolutely the most important thing. Blackberry Smoke may be a prime example of why. They are firmly ensconced members of the Southern rock world, and in the recent reorganization of the music landscape brought on by digitization and radio consolidation among other things, Southern rock in some ways was left without a chair when the music stopped. Then you have modern mainstream country, which at this point is borrowing so heavily from Southern rock influences that Southern rock is having trouble holding onto its autonomy. You play a Southern rock song and some claim it is pop country.

“It’s just music” may be fine for fans and some bands, but it’s tough for marketing. It leaves a band like Blackberry Smoke in a strange position. They’re too successful to be considered underground country (though many mainstream fans might misunderstand them as such simply because they’re not a big country headliner), yet they can’t seem to get their due from the mainstream country world either. And where is rock? It’s gone “indie” and is way outside the Blackberry Smoke realm.

Then there’s the Zac Brown Band. Zac himself has said he’s more Southern rock than country, but thanks the country world for supporting his music. Zac Brown is a perennial at country awards shows and in the country charts (his latest album Uncaged sits at #1 right now), so why all the love for Zac Brown by country music, but Blackberry Smoke is still left on the outside looking in? That may be the reason Zac Brown has taken Blackberry Smoke under his wing, having them open for him on tour, and now releasing The Whippoorwill through his Southern Ground label.

As much as Blackberry Smoke has struggled in the past to find their place, now the stage might be set. Zac Brown’s name holds about as much weight as anyone’s these days, and where their sound was just outside of the country world before, now it is in the pocket. Next what they need is a good album and some good songs, and that’s where The Whippoorwill comes in.

This album is solidly Southern rock, which means there’s country influences and even some country songs, but it’s still not country. This may ruffle the feathers of some purists, but when a band is being honest about what they are, it is a little harder to be angry when they start being pushed through country circles.

The Whippoorwill has some really good songs. The standouts start with the well-written and addictive “Pretty Little Lie”. Another great one is “One Horse Town” which looks at small town rural life from the other side of the coin. Usually these songs focus on how the small town is drying up; nostalgia and such. Blackberry Smoke looks at it from the perspective of the young person forced by guilt into staying in a small town resulting in the suppression of their dreams, and it does so with great composition and a good ear for mood.

Many modern Southern rock bands focus too much on force to drive home the Southern rock vibe: relying on cheap guitar riffs and cliche chord structures and then inserting whatever lyrics work to flesh out the song. I was surprised at how little hard-driving songs there were on this album, and how much attention was paid to lyrics. Blackberry Smoke may look like the stereotypical Southern rock band with their long hair and scruff, but they take their song craft seriously.

One of the knocks you will find out there for Blackberry Smoke is that they have a lack of maturity in the content of some songs. Some of that may have burned off after 12 years of touring and a couple of studio album releases before this one, but some of it didn’t. However one person’s immaturity is another person’s “edge” and that is what you find in songs like “Six Ways To Sunday” and “Leave A Scar”. Again, both solidly-written compositions that use catchy and infectious lyrical hooks to draw you in.

Do I hear that one song that may elevate them to take Zac Brown-level of mainstream country success? I kind of don’t. I’m not sure if this is a criticism or a compliment.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve had my fingers as deep in other Blackberry Smoke albums as I do this one. I know them mostly from select songs I’ve heard here and there up to this point. But taking my moderate knowledge base of modern Southern rock and of this band itself, I feel confident enough to say that The Whippoorwill is a solid album worth your consideration.

1 1/2 of 2 guns up.

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Preview & Purchase Tracks of The Whippoorwill

31 Comments to “Blackberry Smoke’s “Whippoorwill” & Southern Rock”

  • This band is the real deal some of the best rock n’ roll ive heard in a really long time been a big fan since there album little piece of dixie

       5 likes

  • “I’d be lying if I said I’ve had my fingers as deep in other Blackberry Smoke albums as I do this one. I know them mostly from select songs I’ve heard here and there up to this point.”

    I’m the same way. A few years ago when my space was the in thing, the first thing I did after setting up my account was to like all my favorite bands. Soon after I done that groups I’d never heard of want me to like them & Blackberry Smoke was one of them I like what I heard on there page but never botherd buying any of there albums. I’ll probly get this one though.

    As for wether or not there a part of the underground, I think they were but have gotten so big you really can’t say they are anymore. That’s a good thing though. Someone from the underground has made it. This is what we’ve been wanting. Today Blackberry Smoke tomarrow Hellbound Glory!

       3 likes

    • It’s also encouraging because they’ve been around so long, proving you don’t just have to be the new flash in the pan, but can work hard over a prolonged period of time and still make it.

         4 likes

      • And I don’t think any band works harder than these guys. They go from show to show, night after night, by bus. I caught them the other night in a club and they were happy to be there, giving it everything they’ve got. What a show.

           2 likes

  • You need to listen to their Honky Tonk Bootleg albums and tell me they aren’t country or could be old school country. Yes I agree with you that they should be classified as southern rock, but Charlie Starr has vocals that can hang with the best country legends in my opinion. I believe they mix well with Jamey Johnson in that they both have the same vibe to me.

    I’ve always felt Zac Brown Band was more of a jam band/southern rock and not really country. Although that guy can pick a mean country/bluegrass guitar solo.

       1 likes

    • I have no doubt Blackberry Smoke can do a good country song because I can hear it here on this album. I think to have a true Southern rock album, it needs to have a country song or two. I’ll have to check out those bootlegs.

         2 likes

      • Check out that “Lesson in a Bottle” … amazing. It does sound like old-time country, but I think they wrote it. You can find it on YouTube if you don’t have the CD yet.

           1 likes

  • Just getting into these guys but sure like what I hear.
    Just saw a band out of East Texas open for Chris Knight called Whiskey Myers they were great live with a true southern rock sound. who knows, of all generes, maybe southern rock is primed for a comeback.

       2 likes

  • http://youtu.be/JSnfK9RrLL0
    Another new southern rock band kinda like Blackberry Smoke currently touring with Dierks Bentley

       3 likes

    • The Music industry might not consider Southern Rock a genre, but I (the listener) do. :)

      I’m really getting into:
      Blackberry Smoke – You should check out “Little Piece of Dixie” it’s a great album
      The Cadillac Three (aka The Cadillac Black)
      Whiskey Myers

      IMHO, All three are great new southern rock bands.

         0 likes

  • “One Horse Town” is a really nice song. THIS is the type of rock that I like, not the loud, emo, or “punk” music that dominates rock today.

    I think this album tells a lot about the Southern rock fan base. Country music and Southern rock both appeal to those in rural areas and small towns, generally in the South. The age demographics and basic world view of the fan bases of these styles, however, are very different. This is a function of the classic dichotomy of the “Dweller” mentality and the “Seeker” mentality. Jackson Carroll and Wade Clark Roof, in their book “Bridging Divided worlds: Generational Cultures in Congregations” explaining this dynamic in the context of religion, defined the terms as follows:

    “Dwellers live in a stable place and feel secure within its territory; for them the sacred is fixed and spirituality is cultivated though habitual practive within the familiar world of a particular tradition. Not that they are untouched by social change, but they are relatively well anchore amid the flux. By contrast seekers explore new vistas and negotiate among alternative, and at time confusing, systems of belief and practice; for them the sacred is fluid and portable, and spirituality is likened unto a process or state of becoming. The language of the journey fits their experience”

    Country music’s fan base is an older audience that feels fully rooted in and proud of their rural small town surrounding, i.e “Dwellers”. Country songs, therefore, have always been in the mold of “I love this town”. Southern rock, on the other hand, just like rock music in general, draws its main fan base from “Seekers”. Southern rock specifically appeals to a younger audience in these small towns and rural areas who are unsatisfield with staying rooted in their current environment and wish to live an unrooted, wandering lifestyle. This results in songs in the mold of “I want to get out of this town” as in this album.

       2 likes

    • Some great thoughts. I’m not sure if an exact study of the demographics of country and Southern rock would bear this out. There was a story out just the other day that the largest consumer of country music is New York City, and the younger demographic is certainly what mainstream country is looking to court. But with “One Horse Town” specifically, that Dwellers vs. Seekers theory makes perfect sense.

         1 likes

      • Traditionally, country music’s base has been middle-aged and older people in rural areas and small towns, especially in the South. I suspect that Music Row’s desire to court a younger audience is the driving force behind the dilution of country music with the introduction of pop, rock, and even rap influences into mainstream country.

           1 likes

  • I would love to see Southern Rock make a comeback. Bands like these guys, Whiskey Myers, Drive-by Truckers, and Lucero deserve the recognition that so many butt-rock bands have gotten.

       6 likes

    • Lucero’s Women & Work might be the best rock album of the year, if not the past few years. This article brings up a good point, though. Where does a great rock and roll record (southern or otherwise) fit in to today’s music world? Bands like Lucero and artists like Chuck Ragan are stuck being underappreciated in the rock world. Maybe if they were marketed differently, they could be the vanguards of the underground country world and take that sound to the mainstream. If you like Turnpike Troubadours and Hellbound Glory, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t like Lucero.

         1 likes

    • Lucero is awesome.. The Tennessee album and their self tilted album NEVER leave my playlist..

         1 likes

      • I agree with you guys. The Mike McClure Band kind of falls in that category. Their albums “Foam” and “Onion” are great. Their sound sometimes borders on country, but its generally just good, straight-forward rock, which apparently, has no place in FM radio anymore.

           4 likes

  • ‘one horse town’ is a good song. southern rock or country? for my money it sounds more country. not a bad thing. anyway, good stuff. thanks for the heads-up.

       2 likes

  • Great album and a great group of guys. You won’t find a nicer band in the business — big or small. “The Whippoorwill” reminds me a lot of Georgia Satellites – “Land Of Salvation & Sin” album which can be argued is one of the greatest Southern rock albums of all time. Give it a listen. I know for a fact (by talking to them personally) that the Satellites are quite a big influence on BBS (possibly even more so than bands like Skynyrd that everyone loves to compare them to).

    I am curious about one thing, though. What are the requirements of being considered “underground”? Hank III is WAY more successful than Blackberry Smoke so is he not “underground”? There’s also tons of “pop country” acts that are less successful than both. Are those acts considered “underground” because of their lack of success?

       2 likes

    • That’s a great question. I do think at one point Hank3 was more successful than Blackberry Smoke, but as Hank3′s popularity has pretty much stayed the same over the last 5-7 years, Blackberry Smoke has risen, and in my opinion surpassed Hank3. Opening for Zac Brown and ZZ Top, they are certainly playing for larger crowds, though their crowds might be the same for solo tours.

      But the reason why Hank3 is underground and Blackberry Smoke is not is because of approach. Blackberry Smoke is on a big label. Hank3 really isn’t on a label at all, he just has a distribution deal. Blackberry Smoke records in the studio, Hank3 records at home. Neither of these things is right or wrong, or better than the other, it’s just a difference in approach, and Hank3′s approach would be considered “underground” more than Blackberry Smoke’s.

      If funny you would ask that, because a while back I posted an article about country music archetypes, and mentioned Blackberry Smoke.

      http://www.savingcountrymusic.com/the-6-pop-country-archetypes

      Under the first Archetype: “He thinks Blackberry Smoke is an underground country band”.

      When I posted the article on Twitter, Blackberry Smoke responded and said they’ve been trying to tell people they are not underground country for years. I think it is a common misconception, and so that I why I mentioned it in the article.

         1 likes

      • I don’t think BBS is “underground country” either. I don’t think they’re any kind of country, to be honest. They’re a rock-n-roll band. Southern rock to be specific. Which you hit the nail on the head about in your article. There’s country influence, even some country songs, but (or because) they’re a Southern rock band through and through.

        BBS isn’t on a big label, though. They’re on an independent label — Southern Ground (owned by Zac Brown) — with a distribution deal through RED (Sony). Hank III’s popularity has risen. His album sales might not have but his fanbase continues to grow. The going rate to book him is well above BBS’ as well, because he packs ‘em in a room no doubt about it. That’s why I mentioned him having more success (so far… I think this album might be the one that changes things) and I don’t think he can be labeled “underground” if that was the measurement we’re going by.

        I get why you put that in your article 100%. I’m just tired of the label all together. My main reason for pointing out the inability to truly define the “underground” label is because I think certain people cling to it on whether or not they’re willing to accept it as good music. I just hope that stating a band is NOT underground won’t turn some of the more “unaccepting” types away from good music. BBS might not be “underground” but it’s good music (and you gave it a good rating, so this isn’t a slam towards you at all) if you’re into Southern rock. On the flipside, I can easily list off half a dozen artists that are absolutely talentless but are praised by plenty simply because of that ugly label. A lot of times in this industry, there’s a reason why an artist isn’t on a label or has to record at home and, more often than not, it isn’t because they actually WANT to be broke, touring in a in a van that smells of truck stop food farts, and peddling subpar albums. The quicker this “scene” moves away from that “underground” moniker and just accepts talent just because it’s good we’ll be better off.

           2 likes

        • I agree, Southern Ground is not a big label, it is an artist-owned independent label. But many “underground” bands don’t have any label at all. That is what makes them “underground”.

          As for how much it costs to book BBS or Hank3, I’m a little surprised to hear Hank3 is more expensive, but I guess at the same time you can say he is more “established.”

          As for the “underground” scene, man, I couldn’t agree with you more. It has become a complete and total “scene” with many folks liking shitty music just because it is cool, and thumbing their noses at a band like Blackberry Smoke just because they’ve never heard of them or they’ve had some level of success. Honestly, as a site that is directly identified with underground country, I am completely embarrassed by this, just as I am embarrassed that the underground has embraced Shooter Jennings who then runs off with Bucky Covington and Colt Ford…but that’s OK because he’s part of the “scene.”

          And that is one of the reasons I wrote this review, and have been searching through Red Dirt, Texas Country, Americana, and even the mainstream lately for good music and trying to expose more folks to it and show them that there’s so much great music out there and if you limit yourself to just one “scene”, you’re short changing yourself.

          And where has that gotten me? Lots off accusations of “selling out”. But that’s OK because good music is good music, and I’m looking for the few folks that get that and want to broaden their musical perspective.

          There’s still excellent music in the underground too, and I will always cover that music as a priority because that’s where the roots of this website are. But I’ll be damned if I give a bad album or song a good review just because it will make me look cool in any “scene.”

             2 likes

  • Cool stuff even if they make nothing that hasn’t been done before, Their music is still kind of refreshing.

       3 likes

  • I really enjoy this band. They can channel Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels while daringly incorporating Black Crowes-style boogie. Great stuff – I’m looking forward to catching them live!

       3 likes

  • give their version of “yesterday’s wine” with jamey johnson and george jones a listen. Good stuff. Also, speaking of Jamey Johnson, he has an album coming out in tribute of the late great Hank Cochran

       2 likes

  • I’m loving this album more every day, especially after seeing them Saturday (9/1) in Buffalo. Growing really fond of “Leave a Scar,” an ass-kicker that they open their show with. Just when you thought Southern Rock was dead ….. damn these guys are good.

       3 likes

    • You should try out their ‘Little Piece of Dixie” album. It’s one of the best albums I have bought in many years.

         0 likes

  • Going to buy the album “whippoorwill”

    I really like this album; They said it was recorded in five days. That’s impressive. years playing together, makes it possible for them do that.

    lots of live video of them on youtube, sounds just like the album. I sure like that.

    Not country but they can do country if they want to: “yesterday’s wine”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyRLTzdEv_k

    gonna stop saying it but once more, this is a great website!!!

       0 likes

  • “One of the knocks you will find out there for Blackberry Smoke is that they have a lack of maturity in the content of some songs”

    I listened to the prior album, piece of Dixie, on iTunes. from what I heard, they seemed like they might have been trying for a radio hit on that one….

    And on this album, seems like they were writing songs from the heart.

    It’s very interesting to see the crowds, and some of the Southern venues, for someone like me from central Canadian prairies.

    There’s lots about the USA that I just don’t know anything about.

    just bought the album, that’s two you’ve sold now. next willy tea taylor.

       0 likes

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