Georgia On Our Mind
Southern rock band Blackberry Smoke’s You Hear Georgia (28th May 2021; Thirty Tigers) is a warm homage to the group’s home state on the twentieth anniversary of their founding. Recorded in Nashville’s legendary RCA Studio the songs evoke Georgia’s people and places, as well as its close ties with other southern bands like ZZ Top, Tom Petty, the Allman Brothers Band, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Producer Dave Cobb skilfully gives the record a professional sheen without prejudicing what makes Blackberry Smoke a really great outfit: the strength of its live act. In this process Cobb was helped by the quality of the musicians he had in his studio, namely: lead vocalist and guitarist Charlie Starr, bassist Richard Turner, guitarist Paul Jackson, drummer Brit Turner and keyboardist Brandon Still. On this album they are also well-supported by turns from the Allman Brothers’ Warren Haynes, country music singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson, and, perhaps best of all, sublime backing vocals from The Black Bettys.
Live It Down opens the album like a firecracker, with the solid rhythm section providing a firm foundation for Starr’s bluesy vocals. The track features a great groove and a rich gospel contribution from The Black Bettys. This cut seems sure to be a staple at the band’s live performances, despite their already packed set list. This is followed by the title song You Hear Georgia, which contains soulful choruses and some outstanding guitar breaks. “Lyrically, the song is about the South being misunderstood,” says co-writer Starr. “It’s obviously a rough and tumble world, and there’s a lot of bad people. But there’s a lot of good people too. It started with the idea of how people might have a preconceived opinion of you because of a thick Southern accent, then expanded into the reality of how some people just seem to have such a hard time getting along, thanks to political or religious views, or simply what part of the country you come from.”
Hey Delilah might be said to complete this powerful opening triptych, as all three songs have been released with accompanying videos on Youtube. The jam effect on this track includes what might be described as a ‘starr turn’ [sorry!] from the lead singer on his cherry-coloured Gibson Memphis LE 1963 ES335 TDC Bigsby electric guitar, at least on one of the live versions.
Ain’t The Same provides a welcome shift in musical direction with its catchy chorus, while the country dial is ratcheted up on Lonesome For A Living, with the mighty shadow of Willie Nelson everywhere to be seen on it. Pedal steel adds to the effect, which is rounded off by vocals from guest singer, Jamey Johnson.
The guest spotlight shifts onto Warren Haynes on the following track, All Rise Again, which as might be expected offers outstanding guitar on a track that was co-written by Starr and the Govt Mule co-founder. This is followed by the slower acoustic ballad Old Enough to Know, co-written with Travis Meadows, which showcases some lovely finger-picking and some world-weary lyrics.
The gritty rocker Morningside raises the pulse with its strong vocals and soaring guitar solos and All Over The Road maintains that level before we arrive at the closing cut, Old Scarecrow, which sounds like a self-sufficient old-timer telling it like it is: “I might be a little ragged around my edges, I ain't straight and tall as I used to be…[but] I ain't never gonna change my ways, Make my stand for the rest of my days,” Starr sings in defiance.
Blackberry Smoke have done it again with this strong set of proud Southern songs. You Hear Georgia will be warmly welcomed by fans, and does nothing but add to the depth and range of their impressive catalogue.