I have to admit I feel a certain kinship toward Blackberry Smoke. I came to be aware of this band shortly after I started writing this blog two years ago. Blackberry Smoke were the subjects of the first ever concert review that was posted on this site. Looking back on that review and as I read it now, I think it's safe to say that a lot of growth has taken place over the course of those two years, for both parties.
The progression of Blackberry Smoke's career is a pleasant one to see. From their first releases of "Bad Luck Ain't No Crime" and "Honky Tonk Bootlegs", this Georgia band has been working hard to bring that classic southern rock sound that has been missing for nearly a generation. Not since the days of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Outlaws and the Allman Brothers has a band this talented and versatile hit the national stage. "Good One Comin' On" and "Shake Your Magnolia", from their album "Little Piece of Dixie" should be mandatory listening at 5:00 on your way home from work. They are anthems to welcome the weekend, especially on a Friday night.
However, even with their more rockin' leanings, they still caught the attention of two of the most classic voices in country music and had these voices join them in studio to record a country music classic. In turn, this version became a country classic all over again. "Yesterday's Wine" is widely recognized as one of the biggest hits in George Jones' career. Blackberry Smoke received the equivalent of a blessing from the Pope when Jamey Johnson and George Jones himself performed on the track which appears on the deluxe version of "Little Piece of Dixie." It is a brilliant piece of art, and one which captures the musical genius of all three artists.
I suppose it was then inevitable that perhaps the most musically open individual in country music, Zac Brown, would catch on to the little southern rock outfit from his own home state of Georgia. Adding Blackberry Smoke to the roster of artists on Brown's Souther Ground record label is a natural fit. There is no hotter artist in music right now than the Zac Brown Band. And in my mind, there is no smarter business man/artist than Zac Brown. He knows a good thing when he sees it. And he knows how to promote. The effects on Blackberry Smoke's career have been immediate. Appearances and television specials on CMT. Bookings at major country music festivals such as Jamboree in the Hills and the Havelock Jamboree (their first foray into Canada, I believe). All this has ultimately paid off with their highest debuting album on the Billboard Country Album Chart, as their latest release "The Whipoorwhill" debuted at number 8 last week.
The alliance Blackberry Smoke has forged with Zac Brown I believe is only scratching the surface. I also believe they have found their natural recording home on Brown's label, Southern Ground Artists. He won't ask them to change their sound to conform to radio airplay. They've come this far with their current sound and no radio hits, it's only a matter of taking their music to the masses now. Brown's high profile will do that, without compromising the music. It is a beautiful arrangement, and the fruits of that labour are only beginning to be realized. The bounty is still to come.
Click here to learn more about Blackberry Smoke
Click here to purchase a copy of "The Whipoorwhill" and "Little Piece of Dixie"
Click here to listen to "Yesterday's Wine" and view other videos