Album Review – Blackberry Smoke’s “Be Right Here”

Southern rock stalwarts Blackberry Smoke didn’t need to go very far to find inspiration for their new album. When the longtime drummer and big brother of the band Brit Turner was diagnosed with brain Cancer, it helped put the things that truly matter in life into sharp perspective.

We all get so consumed by chasing silly goals, trying to keep up in the rat race, and winning arguments online that we lose focus on the important things. But one of the greatest lessons in life is to Be Right Here and soak up the precious moments as they happen. That became the overarching theme for the band’s new Dave Cobb-produced album.

At this point, Blackberry Smoke has nothing more they need to prove to anyone. They’re an institution, and the Georgia natives have stepped up to fill the shoes of the Southern rock bands that have come before them. There’s no need to reinvent the genre or to reinvent themselves. You just have to find the groove and lay down in it. That’s what they do for the 10 tracks of this new album.

There’s plenty of that heavy, sludgy sound we’ve come to expect from The Smoke, and this is the style of music that tends to be right in the Dave Cobb wheelhouse. The punchy rhythm and cry baby tone of the opening track “Dig a Hole” launches you straight into the right mood. “Don’t Mind If I Do” is a clinic on the Southern rock groove while also slyly shifting through rhythms. The second half of “Other Side Of The Light” gives you all those great Dickey Betts vibes, especially when the harmonic guitar lines kick in.

The music is great, but so is the message of dispensing with the bullshit of the present tense. Whether it’s the political polarization of the moment, or people who love to argue for the sake of arguing, songs like “Dig a Hole” and the slyly-written lyrical hook of “Whatcha Know Good” are here to remind you to side step all that noise, to understand no matter if they’re coming from the left or right they’re likely more focused on their own self-interests, and to let the friction slide off your back and not distract you from the real priorities in life.

Be Right Here also serves up a few more intimate and understated moments. Co-written between frontman Charlie Starr and well-known songwriter Travis Meadows, the song “Azalea” is about watching your baby girl grow up and move away, and the fear that comes with this experience. “Other Side of the Light” is one of a handful of songs that start on the acoustic guitar, getting you to listen more intently to the lyrics.

The days of striking a power chord, letting it ring, and hoping that’s enough to keep the audience entertained are quickly fading, for better or worse. This is the era of the earnest songwriter with a mostly in-tune acoustic guitar braying about his feelings into a condenser mic. In a few songs, the band seems to want to meet this moment. But there is something that still feels slightly dated or stale about Be Right Here, while a few of the songs feel like a fastball that’s just shy of its top velocity.

There aren’t really any “bad” tracks on Be Right Here, but a few do feel a bit pedestrian from a lack of energy or enthusiasm from a band that doesn’t have the same hunger they did when they first started out.

That said, you can tell the songs of Be Right Here will probably be best appreciated live when you can lose yourself in waves of tone and rhythm. Paul Jackson and Benji Shanks on guitar, bassist Richard Turner, Brandon Still on keys, and Preston Holcomb joining Brit Turner on drums, they’re like a band of brothers, and sisters when you add appearances by backup singer The Black Bettys.

There just something about good Southern rock that feels warm and assuring when it hits you just right. There are ample opportunities to catch that feeling and bask in it, and to enjoy the moment on Be Right Here.

1 3/4 Guns Up (7.9/10)

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