Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Blackberry Smoke and Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real

Blackberry Smoke – You Hear Georgia

In mid-June 2021, the UK Rock Album chart Top 10 is populated by Foo Fighters, Nirvana and Pink Floyd but the non-heritage acts include Maneskin, who won the Eurovision Song Contest, former Alter Bridge vocalist Myles Kennedy and Fiddlehead. Rock is, as I always say, a heritage genre; there are no worlds left for rock music to conquer and, much as today orchestras play the hits of Handel, Mozart and Beethoven, in about ten years’ time the big draws will be bands playing the hits of Floyd, Beatles, Stones and Queen.

In the meantime, we have wonderful expressions of rock music from Blackberry Smoke. I really loved what I heard when the band, led by Charlie Starr, let viewers of the Whispering Bobcast hear tasters from their seventh album You Hear Georgia. The band celebrated 20 years last year and they are both Country and Rock according to Billboard. In the UK their last three albums have all topped the Rock chart; You Hear Georgia was classified as country and it shot to the top of the Country Album chart. Toyah, of all people, had the rock album that week.

I think I got them confused with rock band Blackstone Cherry but Blackberry Smoke are more Southern rock than rock’n’roll. The ten tracks on the album are all variations on a Southern rock theme. Ain’t The Same punches through with its Americana feel and sumptuous chords, while Hey Delilah is a fun singalong and Old Enough To Know is a set of sage pearls that Charlie is keen to pass on. My favourite is ‘Nothing worth a damn happens after 2am’.

Lonesome for a Livin is a waltz on which Jamey Johnson sarcastically delivers the country music mantra of ‘the drinkin, the cheatin and the lyin’, while the band sound like they really ‘put quite a few tears into quite a few beers’. All Rise Again, meanwhile, sounds like Soundgarden fronted by Neil Young, as guitar virtuoso Warren Haynes of Govt Mule helps Charlie to sing about his wish to ‘hold on to every precious day’ via a wonderful chorus.

I also love the rifftastic Morningside (not named after the district of Edinburgh I used to live near) and Old Scarecrow (‘his work is never done’), which is about the very rock’n’roll theme of holding on and being strong even though the singer is ‘ragged’ and getting older, preaching a ‘live and let live’ way of life. Blackberry Smoke are continuing the tradition of making amplified, live Southern rock.

Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real – A Few Stars Apart

So is Lukas Nelson, born on Christmas Day 1988. The man who wrote Shallow probably has a healthy bank balance but has been unable to play music live in the last 15 months, which is a killer for a road warrior like Lukas Nelson. He’s been joined by younger brother Micah in the family business of bringing people together through music. The Nelson legacy is in good hands.

The album opens with a sort of ‘welcome to the party, would you like a drink, take off your shoes if you want’ feel of We’ll Be Alright before the poppy Perennial Bloom (Back To You), which is proper country-rock with a driving acoustic rhythm and backbeat. It’s basically Bob Harris Country, the sort of guitar-heavy 4/4 groove that goes down well on Radio 2, and that sort of thing is prevalent on the too-brief love song No Reason (‘I wouldn’t want you in my life’) and Leave Em Behind, which flies off into the stratosphere halfway through and sounds like Neil Young fronting Pink Floyd.

The music of 1967 to 1972, made by groups like The Band and Little Feat, loom large in the arrangements, which combine folk lyrics and ‘get it together in the country’ arrangements, as on Throwin Away Your Love and Wildest Dream, which is a perfect evocation of West Coast rock. Dawes do this expertly too.

The piano-led title track has the sort of chords Elton John and Leon Russell used 50 years ago, back when Lukas’s dad was a sprightly 40-year-old outlaw back in Texas. Dave Cobb is in the control room again, coaxing performances out of the Promise of the Real, who have also acted as Neil Young’s backing band in recent years with technical proficiency and a lot of groove. I love the rumble of Corey McCormick’s bass on Giving You Away, which operates alongside Lukas’ advice to someone whose time it is ‘to fly…you’re no longer mine’.

On More Than We Can Handle, there’s a toe-tappin’ feel at odds with the lyric of keeping on keeping on, which segues into a series of piano chords and Lukas singing ‘I can’t help but smile’ on the track Smile. This closes an album that I’ll replay often in the coming months, and you should too.

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