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Blackberry Smoke stakes its own path (with a little help)

The Paradise Club, Boston, February 7, 2013

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Blackberry Smoke has been lumped into the country category. Now, it's not clear if that's because the Georgia-based quintet is on the same label as friends Zac Brown Band, Southern Ground, which is owned by Brown. Or maybe it's because they have a bit of a country sound about them in this day and age when the boundaries ain't what they used to be.

Whatever.

The fact of the matter was that if you use your eyes and ears during the show, you'd strongly suspect that Blackberry Smoke was the direct descendant of the Allman Brothers Band. That would include the long hair - four of the five had long, straight hair hanging down to just about their waists while the drummer had a bandana covering his hair.

The connection was not merely a matter of looks. It was also in the sound.

The band, which released "The Whippoorwill" about six months ago and ended up playing 11 of its 13 songs, shares some of the same sound as the Allmans with twin guitar attack occasionally and keyboards spicing the songs. A bit of a bluesy sound at times seeped into the material as well.

While the connection was there, it also would be wrong to simply label Blackberry Smoke as knock-offs or second rate as a result. Far from it as they demonstrated time and again throughout the fast-paced 100-minute set, which drew fans from as far as Vermont and New Hampshire.

The focus was on lead singer Charlie Starr, who has an affable stage presence, higher register vocals, which could often be heard above the musical din and some sharp lead guitar work. He capably showed versatility in going for straight ahead blues in Ain't Got the Blues.

Brandon Still also was a key player on keyboards, typically not having very many long runs - hardly anyone ever did as they kept the pace hopping - but he added many nice touches.

Paul Jackson manned the other guitar, sometimes working in cahoots with Starr, sometimes taking a few leads. And the rhythm section of Brit Turner on drums and Richard Turner on bass kept the songs going.

While Blackberry Smoke could veer towards a catchier, more commercial sound (the single Pretty Little Lie and the very catchy Six Ways to Sunday), the band also stretched out a chunk of the songs. They didn't suffer from being in noodling territory, but occasionally would let the music take over and play on.

Truth be told, although Blackberry Smoke is part of the country scene, the most country they got was a line or two from Willie Nelson's Whiskey River, before shifting into the drinking song Son of the Bourbon and a good one at that.

They gave a nod to Boston with a cover of Aerosmith's Lord of the Thighs for the first encore song, a song that didn't mesh with the rest of the set. Blackberry Smoke quickly shifted back into gear with the closing Shake Your Magnolia, meaning it rocked with lots of keyboards, was catchy and closed out a strong night of vaguely country, but mainly southern rock. It may help to be friends of Zac Brown, but ultimately you have to do it on your own. Blackberry Smoke did that in spades.