For 20 years, Blackberry Smoke have made rock and roll largely inspired by other great Southern rock bands like Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band have used that sound to garner legions of fans and several #1 albums on the Billboard charts. In doing so, they have established themselves as the torchbearer of modern Southern rock. The new album You Hear Georgia is the group’s first studio album since Find a Light in 2018, which induced a lot of air guitar and fist-pumping. You’ll have plenty of opportunity for air guitar on You Hear Georgia, but this album also includes some moments of introspection.
Blackberry Smoke recorded the new album live in just ten days, which helps capture the band’s energy that’s so evident when you see it live. Dave Cobb produced it (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton). Of Cobb, vocalist Charlie Starr said, “He’s a calming presence and so knowledgeable musically, and he knows how to get what he wants in the studio.” That’s good news for the band’s fans because apparently, Cobb wanted some more Blackberry Smoke magic on this latest offering.
The title track is written from the perspective of someone who is underestimated simply because he is from the South. The opening lyrics are, “You hear Georgia when I open my mouth / don’t make no difference what I’m talking about.” Ultimately the narrator abandons the idea of fighting those that judge him by his accent and resolves to let those detractors fall on their own. The melody is driven by the vocals and slide guitar and the backing vocals that would fit just as well in a Rolling Stones song.
Throughout their 20-year history, Blackberry Smoke have played a blend of sounds from southern rock to country and blues. “Hey Delilah” incorporates a little bit of New Orleans funk. Granted, the guitar is the arena-worthy sound that the band has always had, but the piano and the beat bring the flavor of another southern classic-rock band: Little Feat.
If you like the country aspect of this band, you are in luck. With its stripped-down melody, picking on the acoustic guitar, and focus on storytelling, “Old Enough to Know” feels like a Willie Nelson song. Even the line, “It’s mostly uphill goin’ from the cradle to the grave. / A junkie needs a needle, a preacher needs a soul to save”, feels like something that Willie might have penned. The other country song is “Lonesome for a Livin'”. It is a slow-dancing honky-tonk song featuring Jamey Johnson. If you ever had to choose someone for a honky-tonk song, Johnson would be a solid choice. When Starr sings, “I’ve put quite a few tears into quite a few beers. / yes, I’ve worn my soul on my sleeve”, you realize that’s as good a lyrics as you can put into a song like this one that fittingly goes heavy on the pedal steel.
Johnson is not the only collaborator on the album. “All Rise Again” was co-written by Warren Haynes. This song features a groovy rhythm and some amped-up blues guitar from Haynes, particularly in the instrumental break, where his tone is similar to Derek Trucks. The song’s message is one of hope that comes through, especially when Haynes sings, “I’m gonna hold on to every precious day. / We’re all gonna feel the world turn a brand new way.”
If anything, Blackberry Smoke’s You Hear Georgia shows that the group are improving with age. After 20 years, they still make songs that make you want to boogie your troubles away. While some of the themes are similar to previous Blackberry Smoke songs, this collection of songs is enough to keep new and old fans singing along no matter where they are.