Blackberry Smoke: Holding All The Roses (Rounder Records)
Holding all the Roses is probably one of the most anticipated releases of 2015; the long awaited follow up to 2012’s Whippoorwill and on the back of a hugely successful UK tour last autumn. Having been lucky enough to have seen a quite staggeringly brilliant show in Birmingham, it is fair to say that I was pretty keen to get my mitts on this release.
Favourable comparisons have been made between the Smoke and many of the great Southern rock bands such as Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, Hatchet and even ZZ Top and their previous releases contained many similarities. With Holding All The Roses, Blackberry Smoke have both distanced and closed the gap with their peers. Sure, the heavy keyboards of Brandon Still continue to ooze throughout, the lyrics still talk about the good ol’ boys singing the blues and tales of mischief and heartbreak and Charlie Starr’s vocals remains instantly recognisable. The guitar work of Starr and Paul Jackson is effortless, layered and textured and to be honest quite flawless. All of this quality is underpinned by the solid rhythm section of brothers Richard (bass) and Brit Turner (drums) to create Southern rock at its finest. Yes, the band play both types of music; country and Western.
Opener Let Me Help You is more infectious than Newport clap clinic and has a distinct Tom Petty feel to it. The title track is real feel good rattle and hum; galloping along and compelling you to pick up your Stetson, cowboys boots and shake your thang, all in a line now y’all. Some smashing guitar work from Starr and Jackson are hidden in the middle of this track which is likely to become a firm crowd favourite as soon as it hits the live circuit. There’s even some demonic fiddle buried in the track, reminiscent of the Charlie Daniel’s Band track The Devil Went Down To Georgia (how apt!). Living In The Song and Rock And Roll Again have massive shades of the mighty Quo, all strum and sing along with the classic that the Smoke provide on their choruses. My favourite track on the album Woman In The Moon is next, and what a peach of a tune this is. A slower and more melancholy track, it builds with some sterling Hammond action, Still tinkling those ivories throughout before the hook cuts in, and what a hook it is. This one hits you right in the middle of the chest, Turner’s cymbals crashing away as the track builds and then calms again.
Too High continues the quality, all Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson with another chorus that allows Starr and co to hits the heights whilst it also features some very tasty slide guitar work. Wish In One Hand is a classic Smoke track, some harder guitar creating the riffs in true Southern style with some fine duel lead work whilst all the while the keyboards massage and ease you along. Randolph County Farewell is a one minute instrumental that leads nicely into Payback’s A Bitch, a foot stomping hell yeah of a track that would get the rednecks throwing Budweiser bottles at the stage in appreciation. Yeehaaww!! Lay It All On Me contains both Country and Western, with some neat guitar licks just thrown in for good measure. It’s almost the kind of track that would feature as a soundtrack to an American serial; think The Littlest Hobbo or similar. Lovely stuff. Penultimate track No Way Back To Eden displays some serious Eagles influences, beautifully constructed with cleverly reflective lyrics and another really catchy hook. This track simply oozes class, magical in its simplicity and yet telling you all the time that it takes real talent to deliver music like this. Album closer Fire In The Hole proves that the Smoke can still kick out the jams, a real rocker full of groove and clever interplay between guitar and keyboard and for the umpteenth time a catchy and joyous chorus to sing-along to. Holding All The Roses isn't a metal album. At times it is not even a rock album. It is just a great album of Southern music from a band that can climb and climb. 10/10