Since releasing ‘Holding All The Roses’ back in 2015, Blackberry Smoke have been the name in country-rock circles. And while country-rock itself may be a niche genre outside of the most dedicated classic rock stations, there’s no doubt that the acclaim that album received propelled the Atlanta band to the top of the pile. But, with a cursory look at new album ‘Like An Arrow’, the seeds of doubt do begin to settle, with the band doing away with the earthy production styles of previous producers like Brendan O’Brien and Zac Brown in favour of a self-produced effort.
But in reality, ‘Like An Arrow’ turns out perfectly fine. It’s just another Blackberry Smoke album – more songs about life, drinking and being a good ol’ Southern boy set to the usual backdrop of groove-driven Southern rock with some country pattering. The jaunty barroom jam of ‘What Comes Naturally’ is an obvious highlight, while the title track’s sludgy, swampy riffs add a bit of heft, and ‘Ought To Know’ and ‘Workin’ For A Workin’ Man’ are pretty much guaranteed smashes for classic rock radio.
But while ‘Like An Arrow’’s familiarity is its greatest asset, it’s also its main drawback. It’s an album that feels as though its creators are in complete stasis, making zero progression since their last effort and coming out with a collection of songs that can’t match up to its predecessor. That’s not to mention that, at twelve fairly lengthy tracks, it has a tendency to drag, and even the star power brought by The Allman Brothers’ Greg Allman on closer ‘Free On The Wing having only a negligible effect.
But that’s kind of missing the point. On its own, ‘Like An Arrow’ is a solid release from Blackberry Smoke, not up their with their best but unlikely to do any real harm in the long run. Nevertheless, it’s one to file under ‘for diehards only’.
‘Like An Arrow’ by Blackberry Smoke is out now on Earache Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall (@nuttall_luke)