This is the first of the Colossus Guest Time Series. Some weeks will have one, some will have two, others will have none. At Colossus we are commited to be for the people and by the people! If you are interested in writing a review of your favorite album, DM us on Twitter at @music_colossus!
You’ve heard this album before, just not these songs. And you’ve put this album on for the last few decades, even though it was only released earlier this year.* That’s not a knock on Blackberry Smoke and what they’ve created here, just acknowledging that some sounds have been loved and refined over the years and tapping into that, continuing that, building around that can be a good thing.
As my first review for Colossus Music, I considered an album I’ve listened to a thousand times, like London Calling, or an album from an early concert, like Moving Pictures, but I decided to go with something new to get my feet wet on these music reviews. And then I realized Blackberry Smoke released Like an Arrow in October 2016 (yeah, this the * above). So you’re stuck with an 18-month-old album instead of the new “Find a Light,” but maybe I’ll get to that later this summer.
Charlie Starr’s voice matches his look and perfectly complements Blackberry Smoke’s sound. He doesn’t overplay the country or the rock, just settles in-between. He’s pretty good at the anthems, such as the title track, “Like an Arrow,” but his real strengths come through in the more country-accented songs, which don’t stretch his range as much, yet allow the humor or anger to come through better. The lyrics jump from too easy – “believe you me” – to working hard, in the right way – “This bait and switch it’s a son of a bitch…It ain’t workin’ for a workin’ man.” Rush couldn’t have said it better.
“Sunrise in Texas,” has the kind of messy guitar solo I like. It carries through the theme and melody, but not just endless high note ripples or hyper-technique. Instead, all over the place, grungy, messy ripping, like a good Guns & Roses solo, just more fitting for a country kind of song. The album opener, “Waiting for the Thunder,” has a Led Zeppelin-like opening, like the band The Cult covering “Heartbreaker,” but as much as I like it, I do miss the stomp-groove and wish the drums took it one more notch into Bonham’s style. That one wish aside, the rest of the album is full of solid sounds from the entire band. When I saw them live a few years ago, before this album, I remember being struck by how tight they were, even as they seemed to play a loose country-meets-jam-band sound. That tight, polished, still messy in the right ways sound comes through on this album.
They produced this themselves and I am not smart enough to know the difference, but I can say this – listening to the album repeatedly different moments stand out, stuff you hadn’t noticed the first time, which makes me think they successfully buried some great sounds all over this album, rewarding the casual, but repeat, listener. For example, “Ain’t Gonna Wait” made no impression on me initially, except as a very Allman Brothers song, then I started hearing the echoes of the Beatles, which kind of surprised me.
Every song sounds a bit like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Black Crowes, with bits of the Allman Brothers and Led Zep and even some “Drivin’ and Cryin’“. Again, nothing wrong with that, when that comes with enough originality, musicianship, and just simple listenability.
“Sunrise in Texas” has the great line, “there’s a world going on outside the world that I’m in,” which is both wise and fits perfectly into the best track on the album, for me. If you like Lyle Lovett, you’ll like “Running through Time.” If you need more Skynyrd, you’ll like “Working for a Working Man.”
I do not mean this negatively at all, but if some jazz is good background music, this can be background rock-country. You put it on, enjoy it, tune out as you’re talking and drinking and enjoying the summer sunshine, tune back in when something catches your ear. And then you find yourself half-singing one of the songs later.
Maybe I will come back and revise after a few more reviews, but I can’t say this goes track by track blowing me away. I do want to keep the album as a whole in heavy summer rotation and a few tracks will make the “Grilling 2018” playlist.