Sound Advice: Blackberry Smoke with Gov’t Mule (Aug. 24)

Atlanta-based Southern rockers come to the PNC Pavilion at Riverbend

click to enlarge Blackberry Smoke - Photo: Rob Blackman
Photo: Rob Blackman
Blackberry Smoke
With the recent passing of Gregg Allman, the greatest of all the Southern Rock icons — the Allman Brothers — finally ended their nearly 50-years-long career. To pass the torch, it's fitting that Allman sings a song with Blackberry Smoke on the band’s latest album, Like an Arrow, recording his part the year before his death. More than anything, the duet, “Free on the Wing,” underscores the influence shared by a legendary singer and a younger band in search of its own legacy.

Touring in support of Arrow, the group’s fifth album, Blackberry Smoke has been sharing headliner duties with Gov't Mule across the country. This double-shot of Dixie road-dogs epitomizes contemporary Southern Country/Rock in all its rugged twang and guitar glory. Blackberry Smoke isn’t exactly a secret anymore — Like an Arrow debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Country/Americana charts, a feat Holding All the Roses, the band’s previous album, accomplished in breakthrough fashion.

Don’t let the Atlanta, Ga. quintet’s mainstream success fool you — the group has almost nothing in common with the pop-pabulum formula of whatever passes for Country in Nashville these days. Blackberry Smoke brings a veteran swagger to the stage, not to mention old-school wallop, gritty chops and feral intensity. In a Venn diagram containing Steve Earle and The Black Crowes, Blackberry Smoke’s music fills the crossover intersection.

A renewed love of Rock comes through on Like an Arrow, which features guitar riffing that evokes vintage Led Zeppelin’s fiery strain if it were seeping through the red-dirt plains of Georgia. Opener "Waiting for the Thunder" struts in with an almost Metal edge, with Charlie Starr's charismatic vocal and stutter/stun guitar interplay with Paul Jackson leading the charge in pissed-off abandon and Brandon Still's Hammond B3 organ pumping in the refrain. Elsewhere, “Let it Burn” pours on the kind of two-step guitar boogie that would make trucking on the Southern byways sound better than ever.

As soulful ballads like "Ain't Gonna Wait" and "The Good Life" start to bleed between the groove and grind of Like an Arrow, it becomes clear just how much Starr's songwriting has remained a core strength of the band. Formed in the early 2000s, Blackberry Smoke embodies the next worthy link of the hallowed Southern Rock tradition. 


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