"Listen to a tune, and three minutes later you're whistling the damn melody and mangling the lyrics": Blackberry Smoke's songwriting shines on Be Right Here

Blackberry Smoke's eighth album Be Right Here delivers stomp, soul, country, and rock and roll in equal measure

Blackberry Smoke - Be Right Here cover art
(Image: © 3 Legged Records)

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Can it really be 20 years since Blackberry Smoke rolled up to the back porch looking like they’d just fallen off the back of a pick-up truck and were willing to work for food? As the adage goes, they’ve come a long way since then, although geographically they’re still based pretty close to the homes they grew up in. 

Which might go some way to explaining how and why they’ve retained their rootsy charm. That sounds like the most backhanded of compliments, but Blackberry Smoke take a term like ‘rootsy’, and reimagine it – country, folk, hard rock, a hint of gospel. It’s no surprise to find that they’re still one of the most unlikely looking arena acts tearing it up on whichever continent they happen to find themselves on.

Be Right Here retains the simple formula that has made the band such a success: songs, tons of songs. Regular co-writers, a band unafraid to experiment, surprising tones and textures, but the fundamentals are intact; listen to a tune, and three minutes later you’re whistling the damn melody and mangling the lyrics. 

Swampy-sounding opener Dig A Hole sounds as perfunctory as you might imagine an opening song on a Blackberry Smoke album could be, before taking a left that feels right, with a middle section that elevates the whole song, confounding the melody and introducing us to soulful backing singers and lush keyboard chords. It might feel like a rare treat, but it pales by the time we get to Like It Was Yesterday. A surprise shot of pure country pop, it strides in on the back of some slide guitar and some loose soloing before drilling down into the tight melody line and zipping along for a tight three and a half minutes, not an ounce of fat on it. 

Better still is the psychedelic whirl of Be So Lucky, laconic and easy – with a hint of a woozy Black Crowes in one of their more laconic, spangled, spaced-out moments – that chimes on a downbeat note and then lifts like the tide for the hook, built around a rueful lyric but shimmering with life still. 

The chiming, Led Zeppelin-like Azalea, wistful, rich and full of yearning, is simplicity itself; a rich vocal, beautifully picked guitar, the basic tenets of most songs, but the result is simply magical. As is the shining Other Side Of The Light, a little more Led Zep III juxtaposed with some delicious slide guitar, while Whatchu Know Good is a tip of the hat to Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers. Pretty remarkable, then, that 20 years in, Blackberry Smoke are still reinventing their very own musical wheel.

Philip Wilding

Philip Wilding is a novelist, journalist, scriptwriter, biographer and radio producer. As a young journalist he criss-crossed most of the United States with bands like Motley Crue, Kiss and Poison (think the Almost Famous movie but with more hairspray). More latterly, he’s sat down to chat with bands like the slightly more erudite Manic Street Preachers, Afghan Whigs, Rush and Marillion.