Blackberry Smoke are a fairly recent musical discovery. After a feature roughly a year ago and a few people heading along to their gig at the O2 ABC in February, I thought “screw it”, decided to be a sheep and bought a ticket for myself and got ahold of the first album. It became one of the best things I did. I left that show open-mouthed, completely blown away by the quality of performance.
Since then, there’s been another Glasgow gig and I’ve managed to nab their other two albums and their new live album. All incredible works. So naturally, Holding All the Roses was a shoe-in for me to get. Produced by Brendan O’Brien (the man who worked the desk for AC/DC’s Black Ice), expectations were high. Expectations I thought would be shattered.
Instead what we’ve got is an album which falls short of the mark yet is still great in its own right. There’s no sound of the band crumbling under the hype or going through the motions, they just have better albums, plain and simple.
Charlie Starr howls and drawls his way through his vocal duties whilst spitting gleefully on “Payback’s a Bitch”, one of the highlights of the album. While previous albums have been upbeat, raucous affairs, this one takes things down a notch or two, many songs ambling at a slower pace with a smattering of grittier, harder songs for good measure.
Guitars wail and crunch in equal measure. Title track “Holding All the Roses” marries their country and rock influences together with blistering guitar solo and a great bluegrass breakdown which falls neatly into place. Yet, it’s the sombre offerings where the Atlanta boys shine best. With “Living in the Song”, it’s a wistful look at the harsh realities of life and the regrets that come with it but still manages to force a smile on your face, the music playing on the sombre efforts with Starr’s crooning.
“Woman in the Moon” adds an acoustic flair, Brit Turner’s drums taking centre stage whilst the rest of the band takes things into the background. Some simple chords and notes flesh out the songs and sometimes, that’s all that’s ever needed. There’s also a sense of familiarity with “Wish in One Hand”, the bridge sounding remarkably similar to “Shakin’ Hands With the Holy Ghost” from previous album The Whippoorwill.
Up to about the first two thirds of the album, I had marked it as one of those “blink and it’s over” affairs. Yet, the last few tracks shuffle to the finish line, leaving a bit of a sour taste as closing track “Fire in the Hole” abruptly finishes.
When they’re back in the UK, I’ll be sure to see them once more, maybe once they’re done touring with the Temperance Movement in America (for me, that’s a great line-up). All being said, it’s not Blackberry Smoke’s finest effort but they’re still one of the best acts around at the moment and Holding All the Roses is still better than a lot of stuff I’ve heard. This certainly won’t kill them for me. It’s just a plateau.
Holding all the Roses is out on February 9th, 2015 in the UK.