Hardcore rockers may come across as gruff and gritty, but in some cases they tend to be nostalgic as well, even though they might not always admit it. How else to explain the fact that so many of the bands that can still gather the faithful are still so consistently tied to the music of the ‘60s and‘70s? Why, it’s enough to get even their most ardent admirers all sappy and sentimental. Witness the ongoing popularity of veteran acts like AC/DC or Lynyrd Skynyrd — or, dare we say, even the Rolling Stones — to appreciate the fact that when it comes to the music, time can literally stand still.
Blackberry Smoke is one of those groups who recognize that fact and fiercely adhere to past precepts. Indeed, if the sound recalls the aforementioned standard bearers — and it does — then it’s just as true that its members have learned those lessons well. The band’s hard rock regimen brings frequent comparison to said Stones, Skynyrd and AC/DC, with occasional detours to other bands of a similar era. (Simply listen to the laid-back “No Way Back to Eden”, a nearly note for note replay of the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water”.) The Atlanta-based outfit’s new album, first for a major label, Holding All the Roses could be likened to a game of name that influence, thanks not only to its considerable familiarity factor, but an ageless agenda overall.
Then again, the similarities in sound ought to come as no surprise. Producer Brendan O’Brien’s resume includes some of the most reliable rockers in the biz: Springsteen, AC/DC, Pearl Jam, the Killers, Incubus and Audioslave among them. Consequently, he helps extends the maximum crunch to songs such as “Let Me Help You (Find the Door)”, “Wish in One Hand” and “Fire in the Hole”, emphasizing a swagger and stomp that further affirms the band’s obvious machismo. The dire, determined “Payback’s a Bitch” notches that aggressive attitude up even further, asserting both its edge and intensity. On the other hand, “Living in the Song” sounds bold, but it reflects an unforeseen vulnerability as well. “It’s darkest before the dawn / Whoever said that never spent so many nights alone,” singer Charlie Starr wails, correcting the common perception that successful rock and rollers rarely spend any evening on their own.
While some may disparage Blackberry Smoke’s generic stance and the fact that Holding All the Roses seems so overtly radio-ready, there’s something to be said for a band that can rock so relentlessly and still maintain its melodic appeal. This is a group that’s clearly capable of getting fans on their feet and inspiring air guitar enthusiasm, hard and fast evidence of pure populist appeal. Indeed, after three albums recorded under the band’s own auspices, the support of a real record label like Rounder ought to ensure access to willing audiences everywhere. Southern rock is alive and well, and Blackberry Smoke carry the banner proudly. This rebel yell is accompanied by both verve and volume.