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Blackberry Smoke: Find A Light

Doug Collette By

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Since that flash-point in the Fifties by which blues and country musics were fused into rock and roll, this hybrid has evolved via a seemingly endless series of permutations, the most derivative of which are an amorphous amalgamation of influences. In contrast, the most memorable instances—or at least the ones with the most potential for extended existence—are those individuals or ensembles with the most noticeable and direct roots. It's in this latter category where Blackberry Smoke resides, and where the group is finally beginning to truly flourish.

An impression the quintet continues to nurture on Find a Light, with "Flesh and Bone" the swaggering shuffle that kicks off the baker's dozen tracks presented here. Not surprisingly, given the band's geographical and musical roots, there's more than a little exalting atmosphere recalling The Allman Brothers Band in the solo segments of that number, and kudos for the self-production on this sixth studio effort that imbues sonic depth there and on the more structured "Run Away From It All." A more sprightly pace would improve such cuts as the latter and "Seems So Far," which relies too heavily on verbal platitudes further weighed down by a predictable chord progression.

The burly sound of Blackberry Smoke lends itself more to rock than pop, so this LP's title may suggest the quintet's effort to conjure more contrast than contained within the somewhat homogeneous "The Crooked Kind." But the acoustic guitars and congas so prominent on "Medicate My Mind" are exactly what sharpen the group's personality; a rustic but worldly persona informs those numbers here where guests appear, namely 'Let Me Down Easy," where Amanda Shires sings, but even more so "Mother Mountain" to which The Wood Brothers contribute their purified vocal talents.

In fact, it's those sit-ins that crystallized the progress Blackberry Smoke has made to this point and how far they need to go in formulating a truly distinct sound and vision. On the one hand, "I've Got This Song" opens an avenue to contemporary country for the band, even as their writing and recording collaboration with Robert Randolph on "I'll Keep Ramblin'" solidifies a connection with Dixie rock and jambands: this fast-paced gospel-inflected boogie isn't original, but the band doesn't sound so stiff as on "Best Seat in the House."

The more broadly eclectic sources on display during the DVD An Evening at TRI Studios with Bob Weir (Self-Produced, 2017), including honest debts to The Band and Little Feat, along with Find A Light, reaffirms Blackberry Smoke is still in the process of assimilation that, overly prolonged as it might seem, ultimately satisfies: because their influences are so distinctive, it doesn't matter the fivesome don't transcend them.

Track Listing: Flesh and Bone; Run Away From It All; The Crooked Kind; Medicate My Mind; I’ve Got This Song; Best Seat in the House; I’ll Keep Ramblin’; Seems So Far; Lord Strike Me Dead; Let Me Down Easy; Nobody Gives A Damn; Till The Wheels Fall Off; Mother Mountain.

Personnel: Charlie Starr: lead vocals, guitar; Paul Jackson: guitar, vocals; Amanda Shires: vocals, fiddle; The Wood Brothers: vocals; Robert Randolh: pedal steel; Levi Lowrey: fiddle; Brandon Still: keyboards; Gaurav Malhotra: congas; Richard Turner: bass, vocals; Brit Turner: drums; Sherie Murphy: vocals; Sheritra Murphy: vocals.

Title: Find A Light | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Thirty Tigers

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