BLACKBERRY SMOKE: HOLDING ALL THE ROSES
Hard core Fine Tuning Fans will recall that I wrote about Blackberry Smoke last December as part of the inaugural Old, New, Borrowed and Blue post. At that time, I commended to your ears the title track of the Atlanta band’s last studio album, The Whippoorwill, an album that walks the line between country and rock. While the title track remains in heavy rotation on my phone, on balance, I found the record a bit too much Marie Osmond country and not enough Donny Osmond rock ‘n’ roll. Well, Blackberry Smoke is back with a new record, Holding All The Roses, that's (almost) entirely pure rock ‘n’ roll.
For this effort, the band turned to esteemed rock producer Brendan O’Brien who got his start working with the Black Crowes on their first two studio records. Since then, O’Brien has worked with such rock eminences as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam (producing nearly all their records since 1993’s Vs.), Soundgarden, Neil Young, Rage Against the Machine, and Bruce Springsteen (producing, among other records, The Rising). O’Brien (or somebody) has clearly focused the band on rock ‘n’ roll, notwithstanding that Holding All The Roses debuted at No. 1 on the Top Country Albums chart. I hear very little country on this record, aside from “Too High” which benefits from some nice fiddle work that gives the tune a bluegrass cast. And “Lay It All on Me” does have a bit of a country honk feel to it, but if you close your eyes and concentrate real hard, it can sound like a distant cousin of something off Side Two of Exile On Main Street.
But enough about the vestiges of country lurking on the record. Let’s talk rock ‘n’ roll. The stand-out track for me is “Payback’s a Bitch.” Take a listen here to the riff-infused bridge and guitar solo and tell me you don’t hear the Black Crowes. I defy you.
Same thing goes for “Fire in the Hole.” As the initial verse takes shape at the :10 mark, my mind immediately goes to Chris Robinson dancing his awkward little jig, arms all akimbo. And again, the bridge and solo sound like out-takes from The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.
But the Black Crowes are not the only rock influence heard on the record. “Randolph County Farewell” is a delicate little acoustic instrumental in the vein of the Allman Brothers’ “Little Martha.” And “No Way Back to Eden” has a laid back Doobie Brothers vibe to it akin to “South City Midnight Lady.”
Another standout track is “Woman in the Moon” (below). Perhaps I'm too susceptible to suggestion, but I find this song voluptuous — its got a rich, round fullness of sound to it. And again, the guitar solo is pure Black Crowes. My only complaint is that the song cries out for an extended jam at the end. It has such an ethereal feel to it you could imagine the band taking the song to even greater heights if given a little more leash. Perhaps in concert the song will reach its full potential.
No lesser authority than Gregg Allman has stated that Blackberry Smoke “is gonna put Southern Rock back on the map.” With Holding All the Roses, the band may have proven him right.