Blackberry Smoke – You Hear Georgia
On YouTube you’ll find a video of the band in Nashville’s RCA Studio A easing their way into “You Hear Georgia”. It shows a band of 20 years laying down a butt-stirring rock groove whilst Dave Cobb cheerleads from the sidelines, no doubt pleased at the magic that’s being created. Cobb is still the prolific go to producer for Americana. Such is the demand that apparently he’s booked up three weeks after he’s dead. The latest album from Georgia’s finest is the very essence of 70s Southern Rock: a bluesy rock platform, soul vocals, an irresistible bass line and some raw electric guitar riffs; it contains all the vital ingredients. If you care to add occasional honky tonk piano and a soaring slide guitar you’ve elevated your dish from the ordinary to fine dining. Grab a napkin.
The jagged guitar riff on the opener “Live It Down” commands your attention the instant it sounded. This is classic blue collar rock – “Reachin ’up from the bottom / I tell ya it’s a bitch / It’s a helluva thing to break yo back / Just to make another man rich” sings principal song writer, vocalist and guitarist Charlie Starr. Next we’re into the title track, still as dirty and soul stirring but slower, giving more space to the funk and the backbone-debilitating snare rhythm. Starr says “Lyrically, the song is about the South being misunderstood. It’s obviously a rough and tumble world, and there’s a lot of bad people. But there’s a lot of good people too.” To add to the groove there are some scintillating electric guitar passages. I knew this was going to be fabulous 40 minutes.
Next we come to a “Hey Delilah”, which I’m surprised doesn’t include the sound of Little Feat’s Lowell George spinning in his grave: this appropriates his 1973 Dixie Chicken. (I note Starr has claimed he wrote this track, well he may have changed the words.) For all that, it is a fabulous track and has lashing of hot cajun spice. I can imagine you’d see the condensation on the walls on a hot Southern night as the crowd moves to the sound. “Lonesome For A Livin’” has Jamey Johnson step up to the mic and share the vocal. In fact despite this being another Starr composition this would sit on any of his (or Chris Stapleton’s) albums. Electric and pedal steel guitars weave around them on this slow burner. It’s not all full on electric and “Old Enough To Know” has Starr ruefully reflect, on a slower but attractive melody, “Don’t ever trust a grown man with a nickname / You will reap exactly what you sow / Nothing worth a damn happens after 2 am / They don’t tell ya till you’re you’re old enough to know.”
I could list the tracks one by one as this is all killer and no filler, especially since some of their previous releases have not been as strong. Other song writing collaborations between Starr with Government Mule’s Warren Hayes, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Rickey Medlocke and Four Horsemen’s Dave Lizmi add even more quality to the release. Blackberry Smoke expand the content of the Southern Rock genre with few original detours such is their faith with its form. As they say ‘if it ain’t broken then why fix it?’. Perfect.