Review: Blackberry Smoke “Like an Arrow”
Blackberry Smoke is a Georgia southern rock band I discovered a few years ago when I ran across their concert video “Live at the Georgia Theatre”, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Straddling the line between country and southern rock, Blackberry Smoke is a band that defies labels. Restless, one of the more popular tracks from 2009’s “Little Piece of Dixie”, is a straight-up hard rock anthem, while One Horse Town (currently their most popular song on Spotify), from their 2012 followup “The Whippoorwill”, is a country ballad like something that could have come from Pure Prairie League in the late-seventies.
The latest from Blackberry Smoke, “Like an Arrow”, was released in October of 2016, and like its predecessors, it is an album that never fails to surprise or entertain. Some of my favorite moments:
“Waiting for the Thunder” is exactly the kind of heavy southern rock jam you would expect to kick off a Blackberry Smoke album. A fuzzy electric guitar riff leads to a dirty interlude with a classic deep south organ solo, all laid over bombastic stop-and-start drumming, with Charlie Starr’s banshee howl vocals leading the charge. Track two, “Let It Burn”, sounds like a cross between “The Price” by Twisted Sister and “On with the Show” by Motley Crue. It’s a ballad of heartbreak to Angeline with a heavy dose of the 1950s throughout.
Arriving at track 6, “Like an Arrow” brings the pendulum swinging back to hard rock for just over four minutes with lyrics that encourage the listener to keep on trudging with your head down and the determination to make it to the end. “We all live and die / Time will always roll on by / Like an arrow we will fly / Some stay low and some get high”.
The electric piano in the soothing opening bars of “Sunrise in Texas” gives way to a rock & roll bridge and guitar solo that gives me goosebumps, and perfect vocal harmonies that surely have the late Glenn Frey smiling from up above.
If Steven Tyler and Joe Perry had launched Aerosmith in Georgia instead of Boston, track 10, “Workin’ for a Workin’ Man” is a song they might have written, a southern rock stomp infused with boogie woogie swagger.
“Believe You Me” has a funky 70s vibe that Rolling Stone describes as “Muscle Shoals R&B” and the comparison is apt. The legacy of the 1970s Rolling Stones is apparent, and the ghosts of Skynyrd are present.
The electric piano makes a return on the album’s closer, “Free on the Wing”, a country-rock shuffle nearly six minutes long featuring the talents of the Godfather of southern rock, Gregg Allman.
In an era when I find myself increasingly seeking out guitar rock with mature lyrics and strong musicianship, Blackberry Smoke is making me a happy man. I encourage you to check out “Like an Arrow”.
Troy Larson is a father, author, and photographer originally from Minot, North Dakota, now residing in Fargo.