Music Reviews
3:20 pm
Fri August 24, 2012

Blackberry Smoke: Life In A Small Town

Originally published on Fri August 24, 2012 6:47 pm

The Georgia-based rock band Blackberry Smoke has been together for more than a decade, slowly building an audience the old-fashioned way by relentless touring — around 250 shows a year. The band came up on the same circuit as fellow Georgian (and now country music star) Zac Brown, who recently signed Blackberry Smoke to his record label and released its third full-length studio album, The Whippoorwill.

Like Lynyrd Skynyrd before it, Blackberry Smoke turns Southern music forms into radio-ready singalongs. The band's bold guitars, honky-tonk keyboards and deep roots in blues, boogie and gospel all propel the smoky voice of frontman Charlie Starr. But the lyrics on Blackberry Smoke's new album are introspective, examining themes of love and betrayal, family ties and growing old while you're still way too young. Starr, who wrote most of this material, crafts great, thorny relationship songs like "Pretty Little Lie," which is about forgiving a girlfriend for a major indiscretion.

On The Whippoorwill, Blackberry Smoke revisits the classic paradox of life in a small American town, the concurrent desires to stay and go, the conflicting feelings of loyalty and hopelessness, and the realization that giving up your own dreams might mean that your kids have a chance at a brighter future. In the process, many of these songs get to the heart of real issues in a way politicians wish they could.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For more than a decade, the Georgia-based rock band, Blackberry Smoke, has been slowly building an audience the old-fashioned way, by relentless touring. They play around 250 shows a year. Their third album is titled "The Whippoorwill" and reviewer Meredith Ochs says it's a perfect diversion for an election year.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MEREDITH OCHS, BYLINE: Do you love Southern rock, but prefer to keep politics out of your music? After all, Lynyrd Skynyrd's performing at the Republican National Convention this year and Hank Williams, Jr. recently trash-talked President Obama at the Iowa State Fair. So what's an apolitical fan of long-haired country boys to do? The answer is Blackberry Smoke.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OCHS: Like Skynyrd before them, Blackberry Smoke turns Southern music forms into radio-ready sing-alongs. Their big, bold guitars, honky-tonk keyboards and deep roots in blues, boogie and gospel all propel the nicotine-tinged voice of front man, Charlie Starr.

But the lyrics from their new album are introspective, examining themes of love and betrayal, family ties and growing old while you're still way too young. Starr, who wrote most of this material, crafts great thorny relationship songs, like this one about forgiving a girlfriend for a major indiscretion.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OCHS: On their new CD, Blackberry Smoke revisits the classic paradox of life in a small American town, the concurrent desires to stay and go, the conflicting feelings of loyalty and hopelessness and the realization that giving up your own dreams might mean that your kids have a chance at a brighter future. Some of these songs get to the heart of real issues in a way that politicians wish they could and in a way that's more convincing than anything that other Southern rockers are churning out in this election year.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: The new album from Blackberry Smoke is called "Whippoorwill." Reviewer Meredith Ochs is a DJ and talk show host with Sirius XM radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.