Blackberry Smoke Celebrates 20 Years With Guests (Warren Haynes, Jamey Johnson) On ‘You Hear Georgia’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

According to Blackberry Smoke’s frontman Charlie Starr the title track and album, You Hear Georgia was born out of misconceptions people may have of southerners. It may strike some as a political statement, given Georgia’s importance and headline dominance in the Presidential Election but fear not, this is not a record of political protest or overtones. Instead, Blackberry Smoke is in a celebratory mood, marking 20 years as a band as they profess their love for their native state. Acclaimed producer and Georgia resident Dave Cobb is at the helm too and as is customary for Cobb the album was recorded live off the floor in his studio.

Alongside their core five – Starr (vocals, guitar), Richard Turner (bass, vocals), Brit Turner (drums), Paul Jackson (guitar, vocals) and Brandon Still (keyboards)—the album also features special guests Jamey Johnson (“Lonesome for A Livin’”) and Warren Haynes (“All Rise Again”) as well as background vocals from The Black Bettys. Touring musicians, guitarist Benji Shanks and percussionist Preston Hubbard are aboard for all ten tracks and have now become integrated into the band.

In addition to the title track, the upbeat singalong “Hey Delilah” has been released as single. The raucous opener “Live It Down” features rollicking piano from Still while the title track has a narrator who is misunderstood due to misguided stereotypes, a notion that Starr expounds on with these lyrics from the first verse – “You hear Georgia when I open my mouth/Don’t make no difference what I’m talkin’ about/I let you in and then you throw me out/You can’t see nothin’ past a shadow of a doubt.” 

The rocking “Ain’t the Same” is the tale of a war veteran who can’t cope after returning home, turning instead to alcohol and abusive anger leading to “Anywhere’s better than staying here/With the ghosts running thru his mind.” It’s a well-written song with a driving pulse – the essence of Blackberry Smoke’s best work.

The spirit of collaboration is at play with Starr having written the opening two-track with guitarist Dave Lizmi of The Four Horsemen, the former with ex Buck Cherry member Keith Nelson and the country lament “Lonesome for a Livin’” alone but featuring the deep growl of Jamey Johnson on the vocal lead, another standout with the quintessential country lyric “heartache is my claim to fame.” The potent, insurgent “All Rise Again” was written with Warren Haynes who delivers blistering guitar and trades vocal verses with Starr as they clamor for release from the pandemic, assuring us all that it will eventually happen.  

The gentle acoustic “Old Enough to Know” was co-written with Travis Meadows. As in the Jamey Johnson tune the pedal steel is used judiciously, giving the song a nice sheen. The closer “Old Scarecrow” was co-written with current Lynyrd Skynyrd member Rickey Medlocke and features some blistering slide guitar and a chorus perfectly designed for live shows – “Like an old scarecrow/Standin’ in the sun/Day after day/His work ain’t never done/I Ain’t ever gonna change my ways/Make my stand for the rest of my days.”

 “Morningside” brings some deep blues-rock with reverberating power chords, another hallmark of the band’s sound. “All Over the Road” lives up to its title as perhaps the most flat-out frenetic rock song here. At this point Blackberry Smoke has nothing to prove. They are a hallmark of consistency capable of running for another two decades or more. They deliver some gems here (especially the four-song sequence of “Hey Delilah” “Ain’t the Same,” “Lonesome for a Livin’,” and “All Rise Again” ranking with the best in their catalog.

Photo by Joe Lopez

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