I like to focus on the great music and keep things positive. But I also like to be honest. So I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that initially I surprisingly was not a fan of Blackberry Smoke’s newest album Find a Light. This is coming from someone who’s followed the band for years now and enjoyed a lot of their work. Their previous album Like An Arrow is in my mind their best album they’ve released so far. The catch-22 of course is the next album will inevitably be compared to it and will most likely sound worse. Basically it took me months after this album’s release to view this as its own work and give it some truly fair listens. Just like their previous albums, Find a Light has much to enjoy. It’s pretty hard for frontman Charlie Starr and his band to disappoint you when they consistently deliver some of the most infectious licks in southern and country rock today.
The album greets you with the roaring “Flesh and Bone.” The song revolves around the chaos in today’s world, both the good and bad happening. But you can only watch it all unfold, as at the end of the day you’re just human. Layers of infectious guitar licks fill the song wall-to-wall, firing you up for the rest of this album. “Run Away from it All” is about getting away from it all and finding solace from discourse. It’s a solid tune, although I think it could have used a little more punch in the production like in the next song “The Crooked Kind.” It’s your classic Blackberry Smoke track: an instantly catchy hook driven by their jam-y, southern rock/country fusion sound. It’s definitely one of the most memorable and fun tracks on Find a Light.
“Medicate My Mind” is about chilling out, perhaps with a herbal remedy that can be used legally in certain states and beloved by the great Willie Nelson. The breezy feel of the song makes it perfect for a lazy summer afternoon. One of the lighter moments on the album is “I’ve Got This Song,” which is about the importance of a good song and the pride taken in the craft of music. You can feel like you have nothing, but that one song makes you feel like you have it all. The fiddle play perfectly accentuates the lyrics, giving it weight, but letting the lyrics lead the way. The pedal steel guitar that creeps in during the bridge is the cherry on top. “Best Seat in the House” is another song that seems addressed towards current mood of society: impatience, frustration, jealousy and the need for instant gratification. But there’s also that hope for better days ahead and the day when you finally reach the position in life you desire. It’s excellent songwriting from Starr and Keith Nelson.
The first of three features on the album is pedal steel guitar virtuoso Robert Randolph on “I Keep Ramblin’.” Randolph meshes his funky, gospel influences with the rollicking, gritty sounds of Blackberry Smoke to create something that is an absolute blast. This is one that is guaranteed to get you up and moving. I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to hit the repeat button on this one, as it’s just so much fun. “Seems so Far” is a reflective song about the passage of time, how our experiences shape us and the unpredictability of what’s ahead. It reminds me a lot of “The Good Life” on their last album, which I thought did a better job of tackling the existential issue of living, as the lyrics were a little more fleshed out and detailed. The band brings the fire back on “Lord Strike Me Dead.” It’s a commentary on the divisiveness of today’s society and the cutthroat, selfish attitudes pervading it, leading to Starr pleading to God for help. It’s a pretty relatable and timely in this environment. It’s the ideal blow off song when you’ve had enough bullshit.
Amanda Shires joins the band on “Let Me Down Easy.” It’s a light song about letting go of a relationship peacefully, even though one side is clearly crushed. I enjoy the duality of emotions displayed through the lyrics, although I would’ve liked to have heard some solo lines from Shires to add another layer to it. “Nobody Gives a Damn” is another foot-stomping, fist-pumping song full of passion and anger. This feels like a song directed towards the insanity of social media and the over-inflated self-importance it creates. The guitars punch you right in the face (in a good way of course) and this is another one that sticks with you long after listening.
The anthemic “Till The Wheels Fall Off” is an ode to never giving up and going until you can’t anymore. The instrumentation is at it’s best on the entire album and reminder of how Blackberry Smoke it at it’s best when there’s some piss and vinegar behind the lyrics. The Wood Brothers join in on the final track of the album “Mother Mountain.” It’s a folky, trip-y track about finding peace in nature. This feels like a page out of the 70s rock scene from bands like Led Zeppelin, who would have plenty of loud, electric guitar heavy songs like “Black Dog” and then sprinkle in acoustic-driven songs like “Misty Mountain Hop.” It’s tranquility that is a fitting moment of clarity, bringing a lighter feel to give levity to balance out the more raucous moments of the album.
Find a Light is an album that lives up to its name, centering around finding balance and calm in a world filled with chaos and anger. Perhaps this explains what I felt like was a lighter approach production-wise to the songs in comparison to their previous two albums. This is probably the quietest album from Blackberry Smoke, a band who I think shines brightest at their hardest sounding. But despite a lighter sound, there’s still plenty of rollicking, gritty loud guitars throughout that entertain and impress. Led by the underrated songwriting of Starr, the songwriting is pretty rock solid throughout as always. There’s plenty of catchy hooks and a fair share of songs with some real meat behind the messages. Blackberry Smoke had a tough task following up the fantastic Like An Arrow, but they ultimately come through with a pretty damn good follow-up in Find a Light.
Grade: Pretty Damn Good
Album’s Top Highlights: Best Seat in the House, Nobody Gives a Damn, I’ll Keep Ramblin’, Till The Wheels Fall Off, Mother Mountain, The Crooked Kind
Producer: Blackberry Smoke
Songwriters: Charlie Starr, Keith Nelson, Travis Meadows, Robert Randolph