From their southern rock sound to the long hair and beards in the sepia liner photo, Blackberry Smoke appear to be the perfect new discovery for hardcore Lynyrd Skynyrd fans. While that may be true, a closer listen to the Georgia band's new album (their debut on Zac Brown's SG label) shows a surprising depth and variety that proves that they shouldn't be pigeonholed. The 13-track album showcases a band adept at '70s style rock and roll, the blues, Americana and Red Dirt country in addition to their southern rock roots.
One Horse Town is an unflinching tale of an unfulfilled life in a small town, matching the hopeless tone of the hard life tales that Chris Knight does so well. The piano driven title track is a ballad reminiscent of Canadian legends The Band with its spot on harmonies. Country rocker Leave a Scar could be an outtake from Shooter Jennings early releases. The lo-fi blues stomp of Ain't Got the Blues is a great standout track. Many could have been released over 30 years ago, but the clean production elevates the impact of the songs.
"The Whippoorwill" will be a great introduction for fans that discover the band through Zac Brown. His live shows are renowned for their jam sessions and classic southern rock sounds, which blend with country, reggae and many more sounds. Blackberry Smoke has more in common musically with Marshall Tucker Band than any mainstream country act, but their openness to experimentation is reminiscent of their label head. For those who are looking to take a chance on a relatively unknown group, this is a solid release worth a listen. Fans of previous albums may be happy to hear the substantial growth that the band has undergone since their previous release.