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

Album Review – Kenny Chesney’s ‘Songs For The Saints’

I have to be honest. I did not see myself chomping at the bit to discuss new Kenny Chesney music in the year 2018. Take it back two years ago when Chesney released Cosmic Hallelujah, an album I absolutely ripped to shreds for its lazy and uninspiring content. I remember declaring that Chesney would have to make one hell of a turn around to get me to ever take him seriously again. And well here we are, as Chesney delivers one of the most surprising albums I’ve heard this year in Songs For The Saints.

It’s important to know this album is inspired by and revolves around the Virgin Islands and the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma on the islands in 2017. Chesney has a home on one of the islands, Saint John, and felt compelled to give back to a place that’s meant a lot to him. Not only is this album about the islands, but all proceeds for the albums are being donated to relief funds that help rebuild the islands. It’s an incredibly classy and heartfelt move by Chesney and his label. While Chesney’s legacy is defined by beach and island songs at this point, I don’t think I’ve heard this much passion and drive from Chesney in his music in years. His beach music is usually on the casual/party side, but this is the most mature take he’s ever done on this sub-genre of country music.

The album’s opening and title track is a direct ode to the islands. The saints in this song refer to each island, as they were each named after a saint. It’s the perfect opener, as it establishes what this album is all about and that’s the people of the islands, who clearly mean a lot to Chesney. “Every Heart” is a soft and sentimental song about the general struggle everyone shares in life. It’s a little sweet, but a nice message. I really enjoy the little touches in instrumentation in this song, particularly the bouzouki and organ. The lead single of the album, “Get Along”, is my least favorite track of the album. While I can appreciate the message of peace and happiness, I still don’t like the “buy a boat” line in the song. It’s just so consumeristic, although it doesn’t sound as bad I guess in the context of the rest of the album and can be interpreted as more of a throwaway line rather than some subliminal message.

Chesney has recorded several pirate-themed songs over the years, but “Pirate Song” is his best take on the theme yet. I particularly enjoy the details Chesney goes into as he fantasizes the life of a pirate sailing the open seas. By setting the scene well, you as the listener can really picture the life being painted in the song. This is what makes atmospheric songs work. Chesney collaborates with Ziggy Marley on the reggae-influenced “Love for Love City.” Love City is the nickname for St. John, Chesney’s home in the islands. Chesney and Marley sing of the people coming together in good times and need, highlighting the tight-knit nature of the communities on the islands no matter the situation. It’s a peaceful and easy-going song that makes you feel good in many ways.

I thought Carrie Underwood and Ludacris would be the most unlikely collaboration of the year, but Kenny Chesney and Lord Huron top it. Chesney covers the indie rock group’s “Ends of the Earth” and it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. The song is about the endless thirst for adventure and exploring the unknown. The soaring, spacey production of the song is immediately infectious and memorable. This has my vote for a future single. “Gulf Moon” is another standout on Songs For The Saints. The John Baumann-penned song gives you a look inside a little town along the gulf coast and the lives of the people who inhabit it. The storytelling in this song is absolutely great, as the little details of the surroundings and the people put you right there in the town with them. It’s great to see Chesney give an artist like Baumann a spot on this album and for Chesney it’s a legacy-type song.

“Island Rain” is about the relief and therapeutic attribute of an island rain. It goes on to relate it to general relief from an uncomfortable situation in everyday life. It’s yet another song on this album that does such a great job of relating to the everyday person. This track is a breath of fresh air to a person having a rough day. The touches of steel drum and organ throughout add even more to this peaceful nature. Beach country’s most recognizable face Jimmy Buffett joins Chesney on a cover of Buffett’s “Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season.” The song is about the stress and anxieties of anticipating the impending hurricane season, a regular preparation for those who live in the islands and coasts. While they tire of this yearly happening, they continue to live and deal with hurricane season. It’s another good cover pick from Chesney, as it fits the theme of the album well.

The sing-a-long “We’re All Here” is about finding escapism from the troubles of everyday life, something Chesney has perfected many times in songs and does so again here. These are the kinds of simple songs that may not offer much variety, but it’s a comforting familiarity to many. The album’s closing track “Better Boat” is perhaps one of the best songs Chesney has ever recorded. Written by Travis Meadows and Liz Rose, the song is about getting better at coping with the everyday struggles and stress of life. This is likened to learning how to build a better boat, which is such an apt and fitting metaphor. Chesney is joined on the song by a wonderful vocalist in Mindy Smith, who adds another layer with her harmonies with Chesney. There’s so much heart and truth in the lyrics that you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t connect with this song. It’s a small reminder of what country music is all about.

Songs For The Saints will go down as one of Kenny Chesney’s best albums at the end of his career. On this album he casts away the lazy tropes and paper-thin depth that has plagued his career at times and delivers an album full of songs about love, happiness and finding peace after destruction. This album’s biggest strength is its songwriting, as it’s rooted in a place of reality of real people and places, highlighting the ups and downs of life. The production of this album is pretty good too, as it’s varied and does a wonderful job of weaving reggae, island and pop influences throughout. Kenny Chesney should be quite proud of this album, as he delivers a real gem in Songs For The Saints.

Grade: 8/10

Album’s Top Highlights: Better Boat, Gulf Moon, Ends of the Earth, Island Rain, Love for Love City, Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season


Producers: Kenny Chesney & Buddy Cannon

Songwriters: Kenny Chesney, Tom Douglas, Scooter Carusoe, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, Ross Copperman, Jon Randall, Ben Schneider, John Baumann, Mac McAnally, Jimmy Buffett, Casey Beathard, David Lee Murphy, Travis Meadows, Liz Rose

Album Review – Blackberry Smoke’s ‘Find a Light’

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: 8/10

Album’s Top Highlights: Best Seat in the House, Nobody Gives a Damn, I’ll Keep Ramblin’, Till The Wheels Fall Off, Mother Mountain, I’ve Got This Song


Producer: Blackberry Smoke

Songwriters: Charlie Starr, Keith Nelson, Travis Meadows, Robert Randolph