Blackberry Smoke: Awesome or Average?

It sounds like Skynyrd and good 80’s country….not a bad thing as long as it’s more Dwight Yoakam than George Strait.  We learned to play this song and it’s my favorite so by the group.  The progenitors of southern rock were the Allman Brothers Band and you can certainly hear that influence in this song, the solo specifically.  Also, damn does the lead singer have some serious side burns. 

Blackberry Smoke is from Atlanta, Georgia and the man with the burns is Charlie Starr, an excellent guitar player and front man. I go between really liking this band and thinking that they sound too much like modern country (which I hate). I’ve mentioned my love of honky tonk many times and I still listen to artists like Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Sr. and Hank3 on the regular. I’m trying to find new bands I dig in any genre so I can start going to see live shows again more regularly. My band decided to all go see this band two weeks from today and, although I like a lot of what I hear from them, I am not completely sold.

Their covers, however, are basically amazing through and through so here’s a great example.

I think everyone who likes country of yesteryear likes George Jones, “the Possum”.  He passed away last April and his legacy will never die. “White Lightning” is one of his more famous songs and I think nearly everyone can agree that the occasional foray into moonshine is a good thing.

I think there is a real void in southern rock right now and a general lack of respect for it.  J. Roddy Walston and the Business come from the south, but are not what I would consider Southern Rock (but obviously they are still amazing).  Skynyrd has come to represent Southern conservatism and I believe that would make the late singer Ronnie Van Zandt roll in his grave. They toured a few years back for their album God and Guns which has a lot of thematic material on the loss of roots in America and things of that nature. I live in a small town in America and I feel the roots are deepening with the economic disparity. Also, they seem to forget the hippie leanings of the original incantation of the band and even the 70’s era song “Saturday Night Special” which suggests destroying all handguns because of their lack of application beyond murder, but I digress.

The Only D mentioned Manchester Orchestra as a possible Southern Rock band a while back and this song is not unlike a song such as “On the Hunt” from 70’s era Skynyrd.

I only hear a little Southern Rock influence in here, but a lot of excellent grunge motifs with a slice of down home Georgia grit.  Smoke is a lot more southern rock than these guys, but I can see some trappings of Southern musical sensibilities.  I will probably spend some time with this band and I thank you for the tip Only D.

I saw Blackberry Smoke on the Palladia live music channel playing at the Georgia Theater and that is how I learned who they were. I sat and watched the entire show, even recording it. The recording remains on my DVR list two years later and I still pick out tracks like the first one to listen to all the time. This band has the look of the third generation Allman Brother offspring and a sound that is country enough for Kenny Chesney fans and Outlaws enough for my tastes. They have some sweet slide solos as well as great guitar harmonies and a talented keys player with a solid rhythm section. Their sound dynamics are great and judging from their video, their live show will be fun.

This is like an exact homage to early 70’s Allman Brothers and Skynyrd and sounds almost perfect to my ears. Literally,  I hear parts of “Blue Sky” in there in the middle.  Lots of time to groove over to the beer tent and still be back for the second half of the song too.

More importantly, their live show seems great from the video and I think it’ll be a great time watching them. I think a band’s stage presence is equally if not more important than anything they record. I mentioned just recently, while confessing my love for J. Roddy, that I like the Rolling Stones more than the Beatles because the former has toured for most of their career while the latter hung up their live show spurs in the mid 1960’s after playing shows where the screaming fans made the music nearly impossible to hear.  You can have a band that produces true works of art in the studio, but if they can’t recreate it live, that’s a big turn-off for me. Kurt Cobain took special pains to not do a lot of overdubs while making Nevermind so they could still play all the jams out.

This sounds very much like the old country music I love and  references bourbon which I also love.

The music I’ve heard by this band is pretty good and I think their live show will sell me on whether I think they are highly average or awesome. I am going with the lead singer and lead guitarist in my band. It’s the first time we have all gone to see a show together since Waylon Speed and I’m really looking forward to it. My days of going to see shows all the time have been gone for a while and I think if I want to push my band forward and my musical tastes, I need to start doing this again. Thus,  I will provide you a full report of the Blackberry Smoke experience after I go and will leave you with a cover by them of quite possibly my favorite song by Willie Nelson.

The lead singer does repeat himself here and it must be a recording era, but you get the point that this song is great. I love the pedal steel and I wish they had it all the time.  They do an equally good job with honky tonk country as they do with southern rock. I hope this show has a lot of ladies who love country AND southern rock, I think we’d get along great.

My Best Songs of 2O13

2013 was a pretty good year. I got a new job; my band is continuing to improve; my garden is growing larger; my car still runs after breaking a few times; my social circle continues to grow; I got to see my family for Thanksgiving; and this blog still exists even if I don’t post as much as I should which makes my brother hate me. I need to use this momentum and keep on pushing to improve every where I can. I am far happier now then when I was 18 and I sure hope I am twice as happy as I am now when I’m 38. Forget that law of diminishing returns shit.

I have made a list of my favorite songs of the year and not with a mathematical formula as our newest guest poster did two days ago. I went back through my posts and tried to pick the songs that were a soundtrack to my life as well as being relevent to the music of now. Many of these songs are contemporary but some are not. All had an influence on me this year and I hope you like them as well. Use this time of reflection not to beat yourself up, but instead to count your blessings and how you will work on being a better you.

Let’s kick it.

1. Lorde

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Lorde was probably the break out star of the year and her song “Royals” matched the hype. It’s got cool beats that lend to the EDM craze of the kids these days and lyrics that actually address the obsession the world has with money and status. As much as I’ve had a good year, this 16-year-old girl from New Zealand has had the best year of her life and I don’t think it will let up soon as I’ve continually heard her new jam on the radio. “Royals” makes me think of the last days of landscaping and how few good songs were popular on the radio. Now if we can just get some guitar solos and funky bass lines out of her.

2. Tame Impala

It just occurred to me that this next band is also from a land down under and is equally important to my year of ill music. They are relatively new, releasing their second album Lonerism this year.  I discovered Tame Impala from a an episode of the hit HBO show Girls  and then before I knew it, it was all over the radio. It’s one of those situations, like Lorde,  where the hype equals the quality of the music and I look forward to seeing what this band has in store next. Their mixture of electronic music with 60’s and 70’s psychedelia really piques my interest and I’ve enjoyed every song I’ve heard. It sounds like it’s mostly one guy, Kevin Parker of Australia, who creates the albums at home then tours with various musicians. So long-term, it can’t really break up and I’m excited to see what the future brings.

3. Queens of the Stone Age

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The Queens released a new album this year called Like Clockwork and everything I’ve heard from it thus far is awesome. For the first time in a long time, I may actually go out and buy this on CD.  This particular song has this really cool slide groove in it that is so Josh Homme, the lead singer/songwriter, which is an indicator to me that he has matured to the creative force he has always been working towards. I guess he got seriously ill and was in bed for months, contemplating never making music again. Instead, he wrote this album which is my favorite by them as of right now. This performance shows the awesomeness they are as a live band. There is a very good chance you will be reading an album review in the near future on this new album, hopefully before they start winning Grammys which is what looks like will happen. Rock on Queens of the Stone Age.

4. A Tribe Called Quest

I slipped onto a documentary on this group a few months back on the Palladia channel and stuck around because this song was playing on the beginning credits. The hook of “Walk on the Wild Side” is what drew me in but the sick drum beats and lyrics is what kept me. I know I made a resolution last year to write about hip-hop more and I did in the form of various pieces, but how have I missed Tribe for so long? I knew who Q-Tip was because of Chapelle’ s Show,however, knew nothing about the band that made him.  These dudes are so good! I guess they are on a hiatus now so I probably won’t be able to catch them live, but I’ve been working back through their stuff and I’m continually amazed. You will definitely be hearing more on Tribe this year.

5. Rest in Peace Lou Reed

Naturally, I had to make a quick statement on one of the big losses of rock and roll this year, the incredibly influential Lou Reed. It was a big blow and the one positive thing about it is that it forced my brother and I to examine the work of a legend in the music business. We already released pieces on this subject so I don’t want to harp on a subject and will keep it short. His music was amazing, his life was gritty and fantastic, and he inspired more people to play music than anyone else I can think of besides Jimi Hendrix. Lou, you will be missed.

6. J. Roddy Walston and the Business

I included this song and “Caroline”, which is my current favorite J Roddy song, on my busted muffler post last week.  The latter song has been listened to by me at least three times a day every day for a while and it doesn’t seem to be letting up. I love their vintage unique sound, I love their vocal harmonies, I love their energy, I just love this band. They are not a new band, having toured for over a decade and put the work in as road band and their latest album definitely has that feel.  J. Roddy will not play keyboards and lugs around a three hundred pound Yamaha piano to nearly every gig. This dedication is bad-ass  and I will be keeping this band on my radar.

7. Waylon Speed

I wrote a longer post about Waylon Speed last March right after I saw them and I still listen to “Silver and Gold” a lot. They actually read my piece and re-posted the link on their Facebook page which is one of the cooler things that has happened with this blog. I vaguely know the lead singer in that some college friends and I were half the crowd at their first few shows back in 2007 or 08 and we chatted a few times. My friend’s bluegrass band has done some shows with Speed’s lead singer and hopes are high that they will work more together in the future. This band rocks, sounds like metal mixed with country, and I can’t wait to see them again on tour this year. Support independent music!

8. ELO “Telephone Line”

I would call this song the sleeper hit of 2013 for me. I didn’t know much about Jeff Lynne until I saw this documentary called Mr. Blue Sky that I highly recommend. Then one night after a shower, we took some people back to my practice space and our 57-year-old drummer George Harrison put this song on the PA and it’s stuck on me ever since. Like so much I have to warn the woman I share an office with when I’m going to listen to it so she can put in her headphones. This version is my favorite because it’s just one man’s amazing voice with an acoustic guitar and piano. In the days of a hundred plus digital track recording and electronic music permeating everything, it’s refreshing to see a guy from the seventies who worked with the Beatles still going so strong.  I need to see ELO and asap.

I could go on forever but I want people to actually read all of this so here is where I will end. I love writing this blog and need to write more because it makes me happy and keeps me closer to my brother who lives on the other side of the country. I’ve shared what I liked this last year which shows what I’m getting into this coming year. Have a safe and productive 2014 dear readers and keep on rocking!

Ok, one more J. Roddy tune.

Waylon Speed: Country Licks Hard and Fast

Now for something completely different.

I’ve been going to see  Waylon Speed since their inception in  Burlington, Vermont a few years ago. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been specific in where I went to college so let’s be very specific and say I went to the University of Vermont in Burlington to get some very expensive liberal arts degrees that are just starting to do something for me. The best thing about the city, besides the small size and cacophony of food, is the music scene.  Many of them are jam bands, funk bands, or bluegrass bands which can get tiring.  But that’s not what this is about, this is about the ass-kicking tunes of the awesome and incredibly unique band Waylon Speed.

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