Artist: Blackberry Smoke
Genre: Southern Rock/Country Rock
Let me start by saying that there isn’t much “new” music that excites me. Over the last several years, the only band that got me really excited was Black Country Communion, and they’ve broken up now. Then, in late 2013, I was flipping through the channels on the television and ran across Blackberry Smoke “Live at the Georgia Theater” on Palladia. Since I am always looking for new music, I settled in and watched. The music, the look of the band, Charlie Starr’s stage presence – everything drew me in. I immediately bought the three studio albums, and have been a fan since.
Blackberry Smoke is a band on a mission to bring Southern rock back to America. Not since its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s has southern rock been as exciting as it is right now, and Blackberry Smoke is the reason. With three studio albums to their credit (2004’s Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime, 2009’s Little Piece of Dixie, and 2012’s The Whippoorwill) Blackberry Smoke finally released a live album, Leave a Scar: Live in North Carolina, an album that showcases the band doing what they do best – playing live.
Made up of guitarists Charlie Starr (also lead vocals) and Paul Jackson, rhythm section Richard Turner (bass) and Brit Turner (drums), and Brandon Still on keyboards, the band rips through a 22-song set consisting of a healthy dose of southern rock, country, outlaw country, and the blues. And when I say country, I don’t mean the pop country bullshit that seems to be favored by many “country” artists these days. I’m talking about rollicking, fun country like Waylon and Willie used to sing. In fact, the song “Son of the Bourbon,” a song that sounds like seventies’ country music, actually opens with a slice of Johnny Bush’s “Whiskey River,” made famous by Willie Nelson in the seventies.
Other highlights on the album include “Up in Smoke,” a chugging, guitar-driven rocker, and “Crimson Moon,” a great mix of seventies-era classic rock and country lyrics. In “One Horse Town,” vocalist/guitarist Charlie Starr laments the death of the American small town, a desire to leave, and fears of leaving (“we all stick around ‘cause they tell us to”). John Mellencamp anyone?
The band also pays tribute to some of their classic rock heroes. On “Aint’ Much Left of Me” the band breaks into a honky-tonk version of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” and they pay tribute to the Allman Brothers, playing part of “Midnight Rider” during “Sleeping Dogs.”
Great musicianship defines the band. I am most impressed with Brandon Still’s prowess on the keyboards. His playing reminds me of late Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboardist Billy Powell, which seems fitting because Blackberry Smoke is the new flag-bearer for Southern rock.
Bottom line: This is a great live album by a great band! I’ll be catching them on the road this fall. You should too. In the meantime, check out this album. You’ll be glad you did!