Personnel: Charlie Starr , Paul Jackson (vocals, guitar); Richard Turner (vocals); Brandon Still (keyboards); Brit Turner (drums).
Audio Mixer: Tom Syrowski.
Recording information: Henson Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA; The Quarry Recording Studio, Kennesaw, GA.
Photographers: Evan Bartleson III; Chris Bodie; Alan Kimball.
Georgia rock quintet Blackberry Smoke could write the book on how to "slow build" a career. Since 2000, singer/guitarist Charlie Starr, guitarist Paul Jackson, keyboard player Brandon Still, and brothers Brit and Richard Turner on drums and bass, respectively, have played in excess of 250 dates a year in funky honky tonks, rock clubs, and on festival stages on both sides of the Atlantic, learning how to write songs in the process. Holding All the Roses is their Rounder debut, the follow-up to 2012's killer The Whippoorwill. It was recorded in less than two weeks, during a brief touring respite, with producer -- and Georgia native -- Brendan O'Brien (AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam). While it might startle longtime fans, there are no sprawling jams on this set -- all 12 tunes are under five minutes. Instead, Holding All the Roses showcases the band's tightness and their considerable development as rock & roll songwriters. While the first single, "Rock & Roll Again," is down in the vein of their earlier work, it's a bridge to the present: Starr's voice struts and guitars boil. It feels like a young Dave Edmunds backed by the Outlaws. On "Let Me Help You (Find the Door)," Starr's grainy, soulful voice moves heaven and earth, carried by twin guitars crashing into the rhythm section's wall. The title track is a screaming stomp with blazing Southern guitar rock threaded with hot bluegrass flatpicking in late-'70s hard-jamming fashion. "Woman in the Moon" joins Southern psych with country rock. Still's B-3 and electric piano, guest Ann Marie Simpson's layered violins, and Blackjack Billy on backing vocals add spacy textures to solid grooves. "Wish in One Hand" is a floor-stomping, hard rock boogie with a singalong refrain colored by smoking twin guitar leads. The swaggering "Payback's a Bitch" uses the riff "Dear Prudence" in heavy fashion, marrying it to blues rock crunch. "Lay It All on Me," with acoustic guitar, pedal steel, and slide guitars alongside the rhythm section and B-3, weaves honky tonk to backporch swing to Texas R&B. "No Way Back to Eden" is exceptionally crafted. It uses country, folk-blues, and roots rock. One can hear trace influences from many sources, but the song's character and imagination are all Blackberry Smoke's. The band's writing prowess has evolved almost beyond measure here. Anthemic closer "Fire in the Hole" recalls the band's live sound wrapped inside a fat, slippery hook with a riff that is equal parts Lynyrd Skynyrd, early Aerosmith, and the James Gang. When an indie band gets a decent recording budget and teams with a big-name producer, often as not they blow it. Not these guys: their confidence matches their ability and it shows. Holding All the Roses delivers on every promise Blackberry Smoke have made to themselves and their fans. This is the record that could -- and should -- expand their base exponentially. ~ Thom Jurek