Blackberry Smoke’s ‘The Whippoorwill’: Gritty realism and country charm
By David Malitz,
You know it’s not a particularly strong time for Southern rock when its most famous current purveyor is a former rapper from Detroit. Kid Rock longs to be the genre’s flag-bearer, but when he flies the stars and bars, it’s with an incredibly heavy-handed sense of pandering. Rock sampled “Sweet Home Alabama” for his 2008 hit “All Summer Long.”
Blackberry Smoke is a band that can reclaim Southern rock for the South. The Georgia quintet is the right mixture of long hair, short fuse, gritty realism and country charm, with songs that split the difference between rollicking boogie and introspective balladry. The band’s third album, “The Whippoorwill,” contains enough signifiers to let listeners know this is a down-home Dixie affair but easily escapes self-parody.
Opening track “Six Ways to Sunday” announces itself with what sounds like a not-so-lost Skynyrd guitar lick and, along with “Everybody Knows She’s Mine,” is an ode to pleasures below the personal Mason-Dixon line. “She gets me higher than a Georgia pine. . . . She got my name tattooed where the sun don’t shine,” frontman Charlie Starr offers on the latter. The hard-chugging “Leave a Scar” flirts with good-old-boy cliche (“Told me about the good Lord and when to use a gun / Made me very proud of where it is that I come from”), but well-placed organ blasts and banjo plucks on top of the double-guitar attack keep up the momentum.
It’s Starr’s small-town portraits that offer the most poignant and effective moments. “One Horse Town” and “Ain’t Much Left of Me” feature protagonists coming to terms with the decisions they’ve made (“I’m an old married man at the age of 23 / Got two little boys on the baseball team”) without any tidy solutions or happy endings. It’s a reflection of reality that resonates.
— David Malitz
“One Horse Town,” “Ain’t Much Left of Me,”
“Leave a Scar”