There was always a danger for a band like Blackberry Smoke that they would end up too country for rock fans and too rock for the country massive. But after six studio albums, including two No.1s on the US country chart, they seem to have perfected a winning balancing act between their two chief influences.
Readers of Classic Rock are always going to prefer it when the bottom end has some heft, though, and Live It Down, the opening track on You Hear Georgia, is one of the finest rockers Blackberry Smoke have recorded to date.
A lean, funky central riff and a muscular rhythm section drive behind it set us off nicely, before Stonesy gospel backing vocals boost an anthemic, party-tonight, sleep-tomorrow chorus, laced with tumbling piano and interspersed with gnarly vintage organ breaks and sleazy guitar squalls
Another up-tempo highlight is All Over The Road. Given the title, it’s no surprise that it’s a classic high-octane stomper designed to soundtrack an ill-advised, full-throttle journey across state lines. It’s hardly reinventing 18 wheels, of course, but as it picks up a boogie-fuelled head of steam it’ll fire you up in the same way that any Status Quo, Creedence Clearwater Revival or Lynyrd Skynyrd rocker would.
Elsewhere, though, the pace is more laid back. The country tradition of pithy lyrics and proud, slightly prickly southern sentiments is all over the title track, on which Charlie Starr takes aim at those who can’t see past the preconceptions and prejudices that still abound about America below the Mason-Dixon line. Arguably more likeable is their take on the classic country self-pity-fest, Lonesome For A Living.
The Starr-penned number sees Nashville star Jamey Johnson take the mic for a song that seems to wryly acknowledge the commercial hay made from tear-jerkers while still making for a sweetly pedal steel-soaked lament.
The folky guitar ballad Old Enough To Know, co-written with Travis Meadows, is another down-home gem, offering choice cautionary lines such as ‘Don’t trust a grown man with a nickname’ and ‘Nothing worth a damn happens after two a.m.’
Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes’s guest spot on the sludgey rocker Rise Again is less distinctive, and a couple of other unremarkable tracks leave this album just short of being a stunner, but for the most part Blackberry Smoke have done Georgia proud once again.