Blackberry Smoke’s last album was definitely a slow-burner and admittedly, I was maybe overly harsh on the review as it really ingrained itself into me over time. There’s some brilliant tunes there, the continually rising Southern rock stars just opted for a softer touch.
However, latest album, Like An Arrow goes in the complete opposite direction. Aggression and grit is the order of the day here and almost feels like a statement: Southern rock can indeed be heavy when it wants to.
In this modern age of Southern Rock’s renaissance, Blackberry Smoke have always been at the top of the list. There’s just that indescribable quality to them that makes you go slack-jawed when you hear them. Or when you watch them deliver their consistently tight live performances. Here, Like An Arrow continues that trend, albeit with far more gusto than ever before.
Songs like “Waiting for the Thunder” and “Workin’ for a Workin’ Man” feature chunky, snarling riffs. The latter of which you could confuse for an AC/DC opening lick (I made that mistake several times over the course of the weekend at Bloodstock as it was played often in the main arena between bands) but with a massive dollop of South grooves deep fried into it. The blue-collar lyrical content only furthers the comparison between the two bands to the point you could imagine Angus with his trademark duck-walk and a flat cap-wearing Geordie belting out the lyrics. The latent Southern rock fan and dye-in-the-wool hard rock fan in me quivers with excitement at the thought of that.
It’s during these more upbeat numbers that the band shine best with tracks like “Let It Burn”, “Believe You Me” and “Ought to Know”. Guitars come from Charlie Starr and Paul Jackson; grinding, crunching and wailing in equal measure but there’s several points throughout the album where they don’t feature or you’ll maybe only hear one, the band have cracked the less is more formula.
It’s not all high-octane affairs as there’s still the trademark boogie in the mid-range and slower numbers. “The Good Life” and “Sunrise in Texas” are the most sombre moments of the album and it’s a stark reminder that even during these times, Blackberry Smoke can ensure a diverse sound whilst keeping things consistent. Strangely, it’s the title track which manages to combine all three “moods” and fuse everything together into one neat four and a half minute delight.
It’s arguable that it’s Charlie Starr’s rasping vocals which ties everything together in these different styles. As he snarls and drawls across the dozen tracks, he rarely changes tact, effortlessly matching his pitch with the mood in the moment but the voice itself remains unchanged. At times it’s loaded with venom, elsewhere eerily melancholic.
Meanwhile, you’ve got Brit Turner on drums and Richard Turner on bass guitar, combining to create rhythms you can’t help but move to. Combine that with Brandon Still’s keyboard work and there’s a real powerhouse rhythm section on offer.
The Whippoorwill has long been my favourite album from the Georgians but there’s a new level of cohesion here, songs which are so easy to picture in a live setting. Like An Arrow is Blackberry Smoke at their finest. It’s a perfect distillation of everything which came before and bundled into one whole album.
Like An Arrow is out 14th October on the following formats: