Earache Records [Release date: 06.04.18]
Another fine, fine release from Southern/country rockers, Blackberry Smoke. Following on the fletchings of ‘Like An Arrow’ in 2016 and ‘Holding All the Roses’ in 2015, the band are becoming increasingly prolific and relentlessly excellent.
‘Find a Light’ adds to this body of work with another set of songs essentially hewn from the southern bedrock of Georgia, but soaking up influences from various genres to create a multi-faceted, highly polished, deeply impressive offering.
Charlie Starr, singer and chief song-writer has penned the band’s most ambitious set of tunes yet. Jumping out of the speakers first up is the crawling ‘Flesh and Bone’, powered on a dirty, detuned, shuffling riff. The sound is a departure for Blackberry Smoke and announces the album in no uncertain style.
The heavier sound flirted with on tracks like ‘Waiting For the Thunder’ from the last album is pursued here. The riff-heavy rolling swagger of ‘Nobody Gives a Damn’ is another to stand out, where the ivories are tinkled under the guitar boogie like we are here for a Molly Hatchet benefit. Brilliant solo too.
Then there are the leftfield compositions. The complex, extraordinary, yet insanely catchy beast, ‘I’ll Keep Ramblin’’ begins essentially with a Lynyrd Skynyrdy ‘Freebird’ groove, but spiked with more time and mood changes than a prog rock convention. The middle section breaks out into an unexpected and furious Gospel party whipped up by Brit Turner’s frenetic rhythm. Then the track comes right back down to close out with a spiritual vocal and lead guitar in perfect harmony, guested by Robert Randolph. All crammed in to 5½ minutes. Phew.
The band return to more familiar territory with finely constructed, easy-paced, classic Southern rockers like ‘Run Away From It All’ and ‘The Crooked Kind’. ‘Medicate My Mind’ creates a similar vibe with a witty lyric and Brandon Still’s gorgeous Hammond organ bubbling away on the melody.
Starr’s voice is a crystalline thing of piercing clarity, hitting an emotional pitch on ‘Till The Wheels Fall Off’ and stoking up a fine chorus on ‘Best Seat in the House’.
The country roots remain solid too. ‘I’ve Got This Song’ features a classic aching lyric and ‘Seems So Far’ is a dose of hard edged country. Starr gels with sublimity alongside guest vocalist Amanda Shires on the acoustic ballad ‘Let Me Down Easy’. Album closer ‘Mother Mountain’, on the other hand, is maybe one homespun, low-key moment too far.
Blackberry Smoke have always been a hard band to pigeon-hole. Their material presents a welcome shifting target right across the country/rock spectrum. With this album they have pushed the boundaries further and found some sweet spots arguably better than their previous best. They are just a couple of tunes away from recording a monster album. This is very close. ****½
Review by Dave Atkinson
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