There’s something delightfully unreconstructed about Blackberry Smoke. We live in confusing times and things that we took for granted just a few short years ago have changed beyond recognition. 2018 is virtual, vegan, and gluten-free, which takes a bit of getting used to, but fortunately, we have Blackberry Smoke to guide us through. They’re as constant as the North Star and as reliable as the Lone Ranger. Calmly, they survey the turmoil that surrounds us, stroke their beards for a moment, pick up their guitars and make another solid and reliable Blackberry Smoke album. Like, Find a Light.
The press release which accompanies the Atlanta-based country-rock band’s sixth album makes a big deal about the diversity of this record. For Blackberry Smoke, I guess it is a mixed bag, with hard-rocking material rubbing shoulders with acoustic-based folky tunes and the rockin’-boogie that we’ve come to expect. Rest assured that it doesn’t sound like In Rainbows or Pet Sounds or Damn, it sounds exactly like Blackberry Smoke. And that is great news because Blackberry Smoke sounds great. Consistently.
The opener “Flesh and Bone” lopes along in fine style – it’s a bit heavier than a diehard fan may be used to, but the judicious use of slide guitar makes sure that at least one foot is in rootsy Americana. “Run Away From It All” brings us back to familiar territory with a hard-edged, yet melodic sensibility and Charlie Starr’s Waylon Jennings-esque vocal stylings. It sounds like a hit to me. The acoustic guitar gets pulled from under the bed for “Medicate My Mind”, which sounds delightfully like the kind of thing that the Black Crowes could have produced in their prime.
The ‘Smoke don’t fall into the trap that the ‘Crowes did and avoid the aimless jamming which plagued some of their performances by keeping the extraneous guitar noodling down to a bare minimum. That economy works massively in their favor. Blackberry Smoke could easily have perpetuated that Humble Pie/Allman Brothers mindset and pulled three-minute songs into album-side length jamming exercises which would test the patience of even the most hardcore fan. Maybe that’s where the country influence trumps the rock side of the band. Keep it short and sweet, and no one gets bored.
Robert Randolph steps up for “I’ll Keep Ramblin'” and trots out a gospel-blues tune at a breakneck speed which is a lot more fun than it sounds. The coda lingers longer than it needs to, but you can almost forgive the band for that one indiscretion. We’re back to the programme with “Nobody Gives a Damn” which sounds exactly as you’d expect a song called “Nobody Gives a Damn” to sound. The album finishes with “Mother Mountain” which is a charming slice of “Man of Constant Sorrow” style country-folk. A sorbet to cleanse the palate, as it were.
Blackberry Smoke will never be hip. They might end up having a career as long as Willie Nelson and you know damn well they’ll never make a record with Brian Eno. Find a Light is probably as left field as they’re likely to go and let’s face it, that’s not very left field at all.
Bizarrely, in a musical landscape populated by glitchy beats and artists who are more technician than musician, prodding hopefully at laptops, maybe Blackberry Smoke is the real alternative in 2018. Think about it – people are rushing to buy their music collections again on vinyl, after being told that LP records were as dead as disco. Surely it’s just a short hop over to the world of perpetual 1974, where Blackberry Smoke are kings and Jimmy Page and Waylon Jennings are worshipped as gods. Smoke ’em if you got ’em – Blackberry Smoke are heading your way in a ’72 Winnebago, and you should be grateful.