Blackberry Smoke aren’t a band I have on regular rotation nowadays but whenever they release a new album, I’ll happily raise my head and venture back into their world. Mainly because I know that whatever they release, it’ll be some of the highest calibre Southern rock that will grace the speakers. You Hear Georgia doesn’t impede the consistency of quality of the previous half-dozen albums and instead installs them, at this point in their tenure, as a reliable listen.
Indeed, this is an album which preaches to the converted – they’re not trying anything new and instead choose to comfortably tread their own well-worn ground. While it’s not quite as raucous as their earlier efforts, there’s a more measured attitude to the music this time around as they opt for a steady course throughout with the odd high and low. Sombre and reflective nature in both the music and the lyrics, namely in its title track as it challenges both the positives and the negatives of the stereotypes found in people of the Southern regions of the USA. Moreover, what works best for this album is that it feels more contemporary than the “men out of time” of past records, almost as if they decided to make a Blackberry Smoke album inspired completely by their own back catalogue.
Whilst the album features guest vocals from Jamey Johnson and Warren Haynes on back-to-back tracks (“Lonesome Livin’” and “All Rise Again”) and background vocals from The Black Bettys, it never feels like embellishment or shoehorned in like some guest spots. Miraculously, the album actually feels tighter for it and the hints of gospel on opening track “Live it Down” have a sense of credibility to them as if they’d been there since the debut album.
The wistful nature of “Ain’t the Same” belies the upbeat folk tones found within as it dabbles with country in its melodies in the same way Celtic tones influenced Thin Lizzy at various points. However, they do go into full-blown Americana with “Old Enough to Know Better” and feels more direct than the latter. One of the higher notes is found towards the end of the album in the rambunctious “All Over the Road” and fills good-time slot with ease, even if those numbers are in shorter supply compared to past releases and is a welcome addition to the fold.
It’s easy to say that Blackberry Smoke don’t make bad albums – some just happen to be better than others. While this may not be as potent as their initial trilogy of albums, it’s not a bad album by any stretch – it’s just more Blackberry Smoke and at no point have they missed a step on this album. This makes for a safe comfortable listen and a reminder of how great a band they are. Indeed, this is the musical equivalent of putting on an old jacket and finding some cash you’d forgotten about.
You Hear Georgia shows that Blackberry Smoke’s fire burns as bright as ever. Keeping the album at a constant level underlines their modus operandi and a current reflection of the times. It’s their most sure-footed album to date and pays less deference to their inspirations to make the most Blackberry Smoke album to date.
You Hear Georgia is out on May 28th