Blackberry Smoke is one of the most acclaimed Southern rock bands in recent memory. They’ve acted as a successful headlining act across the American countryside and have even performed with the Zac Brown Band, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and other legendary names within the lanes of country and rock. It’s not necessarily a big surprise, then, that ardent followers of the band have been looking forward to the release of their fourth studio album, Holding All the Roses, which perhaps appropriately is named after an analogy meaning “you’re the winner”.
Holding All the Roses is Blackberry Smoke’s first album released by Legged Records, a subsidiary of Rounder, and the first to be released since the band’s departure from the aforementioned Brown’s label, Southern Ground. The band had managed to swing big time producer Brendan O’Brien (Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, Pearl Jam), which, despite O’Brien’s critical reception throughout his career, had drawn a feint worry from their fan base at first. Those concerned with a new producer overseeing the latest album, however, should have their qualms calmed the moment that they start giving Holding All the Roses its first listen.
This is the band’s most rock-ready work to date, unafraid of embracing Southern rock standards to influence their sound more directly than in the past. Holding All the Roses, is, by a solid country mile, Blackberry Smoke’s most cohesive release yet, taking an overarching anthem-ridden, country-sensible style and tinging it with a production equally as clean as it is pleasingly raw. From the starting moments of lead single and album opener “Let Me Help You (Find the Door)” and its humorously gratifying anti-mainstream sentimentality, through the slow-burning, album-closing torch song “Fire in the Hole”, the LP holds up amazingly well.
As cohesive as it has been said the album is, that isn’t to slight the introduction of some varied soundscapes present on Holding All the Roses. Titular track and “Let Me Help You (Find the Door)” follow-up “Holding All the Roses” meshes together a menagerie of instruments and sound influences, with a playful rhythmic guitar heading the track and a slew of fiddles driving it home. Strings are met by a stellar electric guitar solo and ethereal keyboard overlay set over the track’s bridge, making for quite the sidereal addition to the band’s overall collective of songs.
Despite being best known for their blaring guitar solos and homage to rocking Southern music, one of the band’s most memorable tracks on their latest album is the slow-rising interlude, “Randolph County Farewell”. The composition is completely acoustic, featuring nothing but a gradual, simplistically nostalgic melody to tell a story similar in ardor to the Beatles’ “Blackbird”. Elsewhere, Blackberry Smoke get their groove on in the rockabilly sounds of “Lay It All on Me”, and play with something more Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young on the soaring folk-rock ballad “Too High”, which is topped off with a reverb-friendly solo.
On the overall, Blackberry Smoke have elevated to greater heights with the release of Holding All the Roses. If there were a modern Southern rock band closer to breaking the mold on popular rock radio, it would be them. Holding All the Roses, with its sleek, yet “real”, its creator’s trailblazing attitude, production and its honorable hark back to traditional Southern sounds is top-notch listening from top to bottom.