Blackberry Smoke: Find A Light (Earache)
Arguably one of the finest bands in rock music today, album number six from the five-piece from Atlanta, Georgia cements their reputation. 18 months on from Like An Arrow, Blackberry Smoke maintain the momentum with Find A Light containing the same high quality we’ve come to expect. Their music sounds simple, but there’s a lot going on here. From the stomp of opening track Flesh And Bone through to the melancholic Mother Mountain, the country rock which this band deliver with such ease just purrs out of the speakers.
Clever, reflective lyrics are backed by simple yet oh so impressive music which on closer inspection proves to be anything but that. Humble and honest, there is a delicate intricacy about Blackberry Smoke which can easily be overlooked. Just like some of their peers and heroes, such as Skynyrd, Mule and the Allman Brothers, it’s the effortlessness in which they distribute their music which makes it so damn irresistible. For example, Medicate My Mind initially sounds like a throw away country ballad, but underneath it all there is the subtle Hammond organ lines, delicious harmonies, intricate throw-away guitar work all disguised by the wonderful drawling vocals of Charlie Starr. I’ve Got This Song sings sweetly, a gentle lilt with the beautiful fiddle of Levi Lowrey adding to the pedal steel of Starr and guest Robert Randolph.
In comparison to Like An Arrow and its predecessor Holding All The Roses, Find A Light takes a lighter slower paced route, more gentle in comparison. Starr has either written or co-written all the tracks here, but it’s much more than just the frontman, with the harmonies of guitarist Paul Jackson, ably supported by Amanda Shires and Oliver and Chris Wood essential. Best Seat In The House begins with a riff taken from The Bangles back catalogue, Starr allowing himself time to explore emotions whilst Jackson’s rhythm guitar and Richard Turner’s bass chug sweetly together. The introduction of The Black Bettys, Sherie and Sherita Murphy on I’ll Keep Ramblin’ carries the listener to the joyous gospel halls of the Deep South, whilst Let Me Down Easy where Starr duets with Amanda Shires conjures up reminders of the magnificent Raising Sands that Robert Plant and Alison Krauss produced several years ago.
Like all Blackberry Smoke’s music, repeated plays allow the listener to discover delicious hidden extras, such as the solid drumming of Brit Turner, the subtle keyboards of Brandon Still that nestle under the covers but without which a valuable layer of the band’s sound would vitally miss. I could write all day about a band that are without doubt one of the hottest properties in the rock world. The Smoke tour the UK in November. I have tickets for Cardiff and Bristol. It will be magical. 9/10
The Amorettes: Born To Break (SPV)
The Amorettes are an enigma to me. The Scottish trio have supported some big names in the rock world since they arrived on the scene in 2009, yet have managed to churn out the same song for three albums. Born To Break, produced by Thunder’s Luke Morley, continues in the same vein, with another 12 tracks of routine, painting by numbers hard rock which is totally inoffensive, mildly enjoyable and no doubt classed by the Planet Rock massive as “the future of rock n’ roll”. Having seen the band live, they certainly have the balls to kick out the jams with any of their male counterpart. But on record, well, it’s all a bit samey. Everything I Learned (Learned From Rock N’ Roll) is cringeworthy, Hell Or High Water and You’ve Still Got Rock N’ Roll are polished but oh so repetitive. By the time you get to Bat Shit Crazy it’s time to pull the needle off the record and move on to something with a modicum of substance. Throw away rock at its finest. Great at Hard Rock Hell when you’ve had a few beers, The Amorettes are a band who I have admiration for … but I’d never listen to them out of choice. It’s all a bit tedious. 5/10
Lowdrive: Roller (Cargo Records)
The clear plan of Lowdrive: To write and record great riff heavy songs and to play live regularly. Whilst I can’t vouch for the latter, this Sheffield based band has certainly made a flying start to the former with debut album Roller stuffed to the brim with riffs that just demand your attention. Lowdrive is former Warrior Soul/Goat Leaf guitarist John Hodgson and Goat Leaf drummer Mat Washington, former Indra and Flip The Pyramid vocalist Andy Sawford and former F.T.P member Martin Gargalovic on bass.
With a bluesy foundation and a gritty, thumping delivery, Lowdrive conjure up numerous comparisons, including Witch Tripper, Blind Haze, Orange Goblin and Scorpion Child for starters. It’s not pretty, but it’s gnarly and determined and hits all the right spots. The title track, the chug of Into The Fire, the driving anthem Puppets (which has shades of Monster Magnet and demands to be played when driving at high speed) and in your face opener The Last Stand all demand a nodding reception. Sometimes the requirement is dirty, fast riffage and Lowdrive give it to you with both barrels. Meatier than a butcher’s apron. This is the nuts. 8/10
Crisix: Against The Odds (Listenable Records)
This is the fourth album from the Barcelona quintet whose music is a cross between thrash and hardcore. To be fair, two plays of this highly spirited release was sufficient but if you like your Hatebreed, Jasta, etc then Against The Odds should be very enjoyable. Self-produced at Axtudios in Spain and mastered by Jens Bogren (Arch Enemy, At The Gates, Bloodbath, Kreator et al) at Fascination Street Studios in Sweden, the bull is straight into the china shop from the off with the raging Get Out Of Head.
Nine tracks, all powerfully delivered, cover a range of topics as far ranging as the abuse of the church (Leave Your God Behind), the addiction to technology (Technophiliac) as well as Ridley Scott’s Aliens in Xenomorph Blood, novelist George R. R. Martin’s fantasy worlds in The North Remembers, and Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball characters in Prince Of Saiyans. Clench your fists, circle the pits and enjoy with your best beater. Bracing stuff. 7/10