Just when you thought Southern rock was all but dead, Blackberry Smoke arrive and resuscitate the whole genre.
Already a hit in the States, it’s a bit of a shame fans of the band have had to wait so long for The Whippoorwill to arrive in the UK and Europe.
I’m even more surprised this 2012 album has taken so long to find its way across the Atlantic considering Earache Records, who the band are signed to, are UK based. The wait though, as the saying goes, is definitely worth it. Unless of course you happen to be the sort of rock fan that paints inverted crosses on their forehead. This may not be for you.
The funny thing is though that the sort of music this Georgia quintet play harks back to the very roots of rock, and metal, and all its now many mind boggling sub genres (including the blackest of metal). The likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band set the heavy music ball rolling in the US in the same way that Deep Purple and Black Sabbath did in the UK. Blackberry Smoke play that Southern country rock vibe with such aplomb that if you shut your eyes you could almost be back in the time when Richard Nixon was undone by a phone call by Forrest Gump and Freebird lit up the free world. They may play it simple, but they make a hell of a good job of it.
There’s a smoothness that runs right through this album from the rock tones of Leave A Scar which could actually be Black Oak Arkansas moonlighting, to the overtly country sound of One Horse Town. Somehow the production feels homely but not home made, it almost welcomes you with a slab of apple pie and an invite to sit on the spare rocking chair on the porch. Sometimes the best production method is honesty and Blackberry Smoke disguise none of their music with fancy mixing. The album is all the better for it.
There are one or two minor issues. Sometimes the keyboard is a little ill at ease like the part it’s playing doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the band. On Lucky Seven for instance it has a kind of reverb that sounds out of place. The thing is, elsewhere it works beautifully – just not all the time. I do also wonder at the amount of people this side of the pond who will want an album this retro sounding in 2014. This might explain the delay in getting it out over here. In the states it made the Billboard Top 40, but a country rock album of this ilk sadly will struggle in the UK and Europe I fear. Much of the record’s pace is set very slow; maybe too much so.
For those people who are fans of this music though, this is almost as good as it gets. This is also a real and relatively youthful band who you can go and see play live, not just an old recording of people who are either ancient or no longer with us at all (excepting Greg Allman who still rocks to this day). Epitomising what this band stand for is the wonderful Ain’t Got The Blues which has vinyl crackle built in for added nostalgic effect. This is possibly the only time a sound is used that doesn’t come directly from the musicians themselves.
It doesn’t really matter what genre of rock you listen to, this is an album that I’d recommend you play if you want to know about the roots of your passion, when blues, folk and a certain Jim Marshall combined to inspire a life style.
The Whippoorwill is a delightful modern album that brings the origins of rock music back home to a new generation of fans.