Essential Review – Blackberry Smoke’s ‘Like An Arrow’

While much of rock languishes in today’s music world, Blackberry Smoke is thriving. The southern rock/country rock group has yet to put out a bad album and continue to relentlessly tour across the country putting on some of the best live shows you can see. While all of their albums are enjoyable, it’s their 2016 album Like An Arrow that is the true gem of their catalog so far. It was their second album to reach #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and rightly racked up a lot of critical acclaim. If you’re a fan of fusion country, this is an essential album to hear.

This album kicks ass from the moment you hit play on “Waiting for the Thunder.” The impressive roaring guitars hit you in the face like a ton of bricks. The lyrics scathingly take down powerful institutions that put down the men and women who bust their ass to get by. It’s a tornado of a song that just sort of leaves you in awe after hearing it. This may be one of the band’s best songs ever. “Let It Burn” can be interpreted as a dig at Music Row and it’s bullshit or any old small town across the country where people are fed up with the way things are run. Either way the lyrics hit hard and the guitars hit harder.

One of the more sentimental moments on the album is “The Good Life.” It’s about a father passing onto his son the advice his own father gave him when he was young. It’s a song that promotes the values of family, hard work and tradition. The heart behind the lyrics could bring a tear to your eyes. “Running Through Time” is one of those songs that band makes look and sound so easy. I love the soulful touches added in throughout the song, with an organ sneakily playing in the background. That soulful influence shows up again on “Believe You Me,” a song about you controlling your own destiny. Again the guitar work blows me away and combined with the soulful touches it just makes the band’s sound even better.

There are some songs on this album where you just have to sit back and admire the instrumentation work, like on “What Comes Naturally” and “Ought to Know.” The latter especially has a memorable riff in the bridge. The album’s title track is about going through the ups and downs of life. The guitar work on this song is extremely impressive and you’ll find yourself jamming along to this song with ease. Both the lyrics and instrumentation are so damn infectious and catchy. The same can be said about “Workin’ for a Workin’ Man.” Starr and the band sing about the grievances and pains of the workingman under the boss man. It’s a battle cry for everyone who feels short-changed at their jobs and at life. I mean look at lyrics like, “This bait and switch is a son of a bitch, it ain’t workin’ for a workin’ man, I got to shuck and jive just to even survive.” I find it impossible not to be hooked by lyrics like this because it’s not only catchy, but it can have real anger and power behind it thanks to the great delivery by Starr.

One song that sort of sneaks up on you is “Sunrise in Texas.” On the first listen it may not stand out as much as other songs on the album do, but with more listens it just gets better and better. Charlie Starr delivers one of his best vocal performances here, just belting the lyrics with conviction and fire. Then you have the crunchy guitars in the bridge and you just have to marvel at this song. “Ain’t Gonna Wait” leans more country than rock and shows this band could go straight country if they wanted to and sound just as great. But why choose one genre when you can nail two at once? The late, great Gregg Allman of the iconic Allman Brothers joins Blackberry Smoke on the album’s final song, “Free On The Wing.” This song is about finding your way in life and saying goodbye to old stories to say hello to new ones. It felt like this was a special passing of the torch moment between one of the best southern rock groups from yesteryear and arguably the best southern rock group today. To me Like An Arrow is going to be one of the moments that ultimately define the excellent legacy being set by Blackberry Smoke.

Album’s Top Highlights: Waiting For The Thunder, Workin’ for a Workin’ Man, Like an Arrow, The Good Life, Sunrise in Texas, Free on the Wing


Producer: Blackberry Smoke

Songwriters: Charlie Starr, Travis Meadows, Paul Jackson, Brandon Still, Richard Turner, Brit Turner, Michael Tolcher

3 thoughts on “Essential Review – Blackberry Smoke’s ‘Like An Arrow’

  1. Swamp Opera August 9, 2018 / 10:50 am

    This album definitely continues to grow on me everytime I go back to it. HATR is still my favorite from start to finish but I surprisingly go back to Like An Arrow a lot more for the variety. From country (“The Good Life”), rock (“Thunder,” “Working For A Working Man”, the title track), funk (“Believe You Me”), this album has a nice batch of everything.

    It’s weird. I thought their new album had a good variety as well, but I don’t go back to it as much for some reason. There’s a lot of tracks for one sitting. It sort of reminds me of ZBB’s ‘Uncaged’ and ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ eras. Both are genre-bending, but I’d argue the former does it better whereas the with the latter, everything stays in its own lane making it sound jarring. That’s kind of how I’d describe those two. Of course the comparison thing is bad but it’s just an observation. I will say it’s weird how preferences can change! Another good reason why critics should never be held to only their initial opinion on something.

    Like

    • Josh August 9, 2018 / 12:07 pm

      Yeah one of the things I’m definitely considering for future posts is revisiting album reviews if my opinion has changed significantly. It’s weird how some music can change over a period of time, but then there are other albums that are pretty static. That’s a pretty good comparison between the two albums. Like I can enjoy Find A Light when listening, but like you say I don’t find myself wanting to revisit it like I’ve done with the previous three albums. I think it goes back to my initial criticism of the album and that the hooks just aren’t quite as “sticky” as their previous ones. I think Like An Arrow really excels in this regard. I did recently go back and revisit every album and I would now put HATR right behind Like An Arrow. Everything about HATR has aged really well with me (especially the production), whereas I found parts of The Whippoorwill to be not quite as strong as I remembered (it’s a bit bloated in length).

      Like

      • Swamp Opera August 18, 2018 / 7:12 pm

        Lol, I was just scrolling across the site randomly and saw “no more Twitter, tired of the BS.” I’m with you man.

        Like

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