Music

Album Review

Blackberry Smoke’s new album delivers amped-up Americana

Blackberry Smoke

Jason Thrasher

Blackberry Smoke

Over the last 15 years, country has supplanted rock as the genre of choice for acts that want to flash big sing-along choruses and ripping guitar solos — the kind of Southern-fried jams that make up a good chunk of WZLX’s rock blocks.

The Georgia-born band Blackberry Smoke has risen to the top of country-rock’s revivalist heap by writing and playing songs that follow in the footsteps of their forebears — Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers Band, The Band — while also possessing a knack for self-editing that allows them to avoid noodly overindulgence. Their fifth album, “Like An Arrow,” isn’t reinventing any wheels, but it is a solid collection of punchy tracks, their loping guitar solos and growled lyrics shot through with last-call urgency.

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Blackberry Smoke’s amped-up Americana shines because of the band’s keen sense of what makes a rock song work. “Workin’ for a Workin’ Man” combines John Mellencamp’s guitar crunch and working-class ire with Greek-chorus harmonies. “Sunrise in Texas” blooms slowly over a gentle organ line and brushed drums, until frontman Charlie Starr is overtaken by the song’s spirit, reaching a fever pitch as he ushers in a wah-wah-filled guitar solo, which is followed by a redemption-signaling vocal break.

Starr’s voice has a slightly narrow timbre that sounds like he’s taking swigs of whiskey between verses; on tracks like the gliding “Running Through Time” and the stomping “Ought to Know,” he’s assisted by shimmering harmonies that add arena-size moxie to the band’s swagger. Yet Blackberry Smoke’s music has an economy that reins in even those songs that feel ready to stretch out, like the back-of-the-bar come-on “What Comes Naturally.”

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The only song to break the five-minute mark is the modern-times rebuke “Free on the Wing,” which features Gregg Allman on vocals alongside Starr. That brevity, however, means that the needle can be dropped on “Like an Arrow” until its grooves become as well-worn as the classic albums that inspired this band of country-rock workhorses.

ESSENTIAL “Sunrise in Texas”

Maura Johnston can be reached at maura@maura.com.
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