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Blackberry Smoke

Holding All the Roses – 2015 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Dustin Blumhagen

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CDs by Blackberry Smoke

With a new label backing them, Blackberry Smoke have distilled their sound to produce an album of songs that reflect the image that they have so carefully cultivated. When they were on Zac Brown's Southern Ground label, they released an exciting album full of country rock anthems that explored the depths of Southern Rock, mainstream rock, folk and even hints of soul music, much like the music of Brown himself. After a gap filler live release, they have returned with a collection of original tracks. Their sound has become noticeably more focused as they have embraced classic Southern Rock fully.

Perhaps the influence of producer Brendan O'Brien (Kansas, Black Crowes) steered them deeper in this direction or maybe they decided to create a group of songs designed for playing live. Either way, this is startlingly different than "The Whippoorwill's" expansive sound. Instead this could fit into a dusty vinyl collection full of '70s and '80s rock.

The album kicks off with "Let Me Help You (Find the Door)," which is probably the most T. Rex song never recorded by T. Rex, to the point that they should be concerned about offering royalties. Blackberry Smoke know their influences, and they do not deviate from their formula at all. The album is almost entirely made up of various tempos of straightforward rock and roll, full of loud guitars played by guys with long hair. The instrumental interlude "Randolph Country Farewell" is a great way to break up the monotony, but the Black Crowes carbon copy "Payback's a Bitch" that follows ruins the bright spot. The album ends with a little jam session on "Fire in the Hole," the most interesting track, which arrives too late to offer redemption.

"Holding All the Roses" is a celebration of classic rock music with a distinct Southern edge. The band comes across as likeable, if more in a local bar band way than the rock stars they seem to aspire to be. Some may feel that this is a step back for the group, but those who worship at the altar of the Allman Brothers will be happy for more music in their small collection. Producer O'Brien has worked with AC/DC multiple times and is obviously content with sticking to a musical formula when it works. This is an album that you have heard before, but familiarity can be comforting.