Blackberry Smoke isn’t just saving country music, they’re rehabilitating the status of all American music by baptizing it in the muddy waters of the all-immersive guitar riff delivered unencumbered and fully amplified, flying in the face of all notions of present-day style or trend that acquiesce to eepish tones and textures, shedding no tears if it leaves some of their previous mainstream fans or frail lightweights grasping their ears and heading for the exits as fire comes roaring out PA speakers like a primal country rock yawp.
Some extend their fandom to Blackberry Smoke from a love of country music. To others the Georgia-based outfit evidences a formidable expression of Southern rock. Still others hear more of a classic rock style to their music. But as pointy-nosed music types quibble about what to call it and where to draw the delineation lines, Blackberry Smoke is trucking right on by, sensing they’ve just now hit their stride by letting the inspiration of the music designate their path, and after taking multi-year pauses between recorded projects to evaluate and asses, they’re now laying on the gas and not looking back.
Blackberry Smoke’s last album Holding All The Roses was produced by Brendan O’Brien, whose name has been found on some of the most lasting and iconic Southern rock albums of the last 25 years. It was a little surprising that Blackberry Smoke decided to produce this one solo, but as you listen to Like An Arrow you understand they’ve been spending their career sponging up music knowledge from folks like Brendan O’Brien and many other stalwarts in the industry, and now for the first time they feel like they need no training wheels. They know who they are, and are ready for their fans to hear it.
Like An Arrow opens up like a country-fried rock and roll dream where you’re flying over the Grand Canyon in an El Camino with machine guns behind the headlights and the roar of a 454 cu. ft. rocket engine at the full command of your footfall. “Waiting For The Thunder” is one of those songs that delivers the unburdening release of all anger and frustration at whatever life has piled on top of you in a flood of validation against an unjust world, imparting not just enjoyment, but vitality.
But Blackberry Smoke didn’t earn one of the most fervent fan bases in independent music and the first #1 country record by a non mainstream act in recent memory with their last record simply by leaning on loud guitars. Their songwriting and country tracks show they’re far from a one trick pony.
Though “Let It Burn” is about the distaste one feels for your hometown, you can’t help but think it isn’t a bit of a jab at Nashville too in how a town can be heavy on promises, but light on results. “The Good Life” is the kind of homage of a son to a father that Southern rock picked up from country. In fact after the first couple of songs on Like An Arrow that come on like a house on fire, you’re surprised how song-based and diverse the second half of the record is, including the country soul of “Sunrise in Texas,” the acoustic, “Ain’t Gonna Wait,” the New Orleans styling of “What Comes Naturally” or the unexpected funkiness of “Believe You Me” making sure you don’t forget the across-the-tracks influence Southern rock evidenced in some of the music of The Allman Brothers, The Doobies, and others.
Like An Arrow also might miss the target in a few places, like “Workin’ For a Workin’ Man” which relies on a similar stop riff as “Waiting For The Thunder,” and the lyrics are a little phoned in. This album probably could have stopped at 10 songs, but aside from the material itself, this album is just so balls out present in the speakers that it sucks you right in and doesn’t let go. So many records these days are burdened with vintage affectations in the recording process, they don’t blast out of the speakers with clarity and presence like fresh music is supposed to. Like An Arrow feels alive.
If country fans want a little more rock and roll in their country, don’t go supping at the trough of Jason Aldean and the other proprietors of diluted arena rock. Blackberry Smoke is the band right now carrying on the authentic Southern rock identity in modern music.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8.5/10)
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