Hot off the Press

Blackberry Smoke | Leave A Scar: Live In North Carolina

by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Senior Columnist —

blackberry_smoke_-_leave_a_scar_-_liveSouthern Rock is a subgenre of rock that was always all about the quality and impact of the live performance, often favored to the studio crafts. Playing live in concert allowed the Dixie rockers not only to indulge themselves in the extended jams and elaborate solo parts, but also to stay close to their audience. The contemporary Southern Rock bands are no different in their politics. Perhaps the best-known representatives of the younger generation within the genre, the Georgia-based quintet Blackberry Smoke, proudly claim themselves to be “always on tour” and actually, with the number of their live dates being estimated roughly up to 250 each year, they don’t really cut it too fat. Having thus based their career mainly on the extensive touring and having already gained the reputation of an excellent live band, the band dots the “I’s” with their fourth effort. A living, pulsating proof of what Blackberry Smoke stands for when heard and seen live, the album entitled Leave A Scar: Live In North Carolina is comprised of two CDs + DVD and released by Earache Records.

Perhaps the biggest challenge the Southern Rock/Americana band has to face on the road is to maintain the unique atmosphere of the smokey-filled joint somewhere down the American South… even if playing London’s O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire! It might be a reason why, in spite of the huge number of cities and venues they played at, it’s the recordings from North Carolina and not elsewhere that were chosen to be released in a form of a live album. After all, there couldn’t have been more authentic Southern Rock music than the one that’s performed and recorded right there in the heart of the South, and here we have things kept as genuine as only possible.

Leave A Scar: Live In North Carolina is Blackberry Smoke in a nutshell – a story of three studio albums and fourteen years of tenure on stage kept short (relatively, at least). A double album release is comprised of twenty two tracks, the majority of them being the representatives of the group’s most recent endeavor The Whippoorwill (2012) which is performed here in its entirety. There are bits and pieces of the 2009 release Little Piece Of Dixie too on the album, from “Good One Comin’ On” to the final track “Shake Your Magnolia” – their earliest period represented by the ballad-esque blues “Testify.” A special treat is the previously unreleased song, a feisty, guitar-laden “Payback’s A Bitch” which has also found its way to the set list of the recorded performance.

But what counts the most is that Blackberry Smoke’s first live album brings with itself not only an interesting cross section of the band’s entire material, but also over more than minutes of a solid live performance in a straightforward, rough manner. Charlie Starr and his band mates pick up the gauntlet somewhat thrown by their mighty precursors, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd or 38. Special – but what differentiates them particularly from the current incarnation of Skynyrd is their uber traditional approach to the music they play. Blackberry Smoke’s sound purposefully harkens back to the glorious era of Southern Rock, every track they perform in concert laden with the tasteful boogie rhythms, fiery guitar leads, country-esque flavors and bluesy grooves. The sound is rich but spacious, with a certain quality to the album that suggests it to be a prolonged jam session rather than the carefully planned and meticulously crafted spectacle. And in spite of the subsequent tracks coming from different albums and different periods in the band’s history, the content of Leave A Scar: Live In North Carolina is surprisingly cohesive and coherent, even the previously unreleased song “Payback’s A Bitch” being no oddity sound-wise.

Leave A Scar: Live In North Carolina comes with an additional DVD that actually turns out to be a bit more than just a visual complement to the audio material. Apart from the concert footage, you can also take a unique behind-the-scenes look at Blackberry Smoke, as the subsequent videos from the actual live performance alternate with the candid backstage footage, showing the band members spending time off stage, barbecuing, hanging out with their families, jamming together with their children etc. Narrated by an eloquent band leader Charlie Starr, the movie has a certain documentary value to it, the band presented as a bunch of the genuine and righteous dudes from the South, proud of their heritage, their traditions and most of all, their music. The bonus features are also one of the kind, yet another unique trip down the Dixie land seen through the eyes of Blackberry Smoke, with the band members talking simply everything – from movies to moonshine…

Blackberry Smoke’s Leave A Scar live album is a worthy recommendation for every Southern Rock aficionado – for many reasons. There’s this retrospective value of the release the band’s staunch fans appreciate the most, and chances are that it’ll become a teaser for those who haven’t heard any of the Georgia-based group’s studio albums yet. It’s also a flagship of the band at this particular point in time, their music and the legacy they continue. But what perhaps counts the most for an average listener is that the double album live release by Blackberry Smoke is simply a great piece of music. It’s twenty two tracks revolving around the traditional, rootsy, gritty Southern Rock sound with bluesy and country-ish flavors, performed in an authentic, straightforward manner with no artsy-craftsy elements. Many a band should thus learn how to keep things real from these Dixie boys – as not only the excellence of their live performance, but also the genuineness of their music is simply exemplary.

Genre: Southern Rock

Charlie Starr: vocals, guitars
Brandon Still: keyboards
Paul Jackson: guitars, vocals
Brit Turner: drums
Richard Turner: bass guitar, vocals

Track List:
1. Shakin’ Hands With The Holy Ghost
2. Sanctified Woman
3. Testify
4. Good One Comin’ On
5. Six Ways To Sunday
6. Ain’t Got The Blues
7. Lucky Seven
8. Pretty Little Lie
9. Restless
10. Up In Smoke
11. Crimson Moon
12. The Whippoorwill
13. Son Of The Bourbon
14. Everybody Knows She’s Mine
15. One Horse Town
16. Lesson In A Bottle
17. Ain’t Much Left Of Me
18. Leave A Scar
19. Sleeping Dogs
20. Payback’s A Bitch
21. Up The Road
22. Shake Your Magnolia

Label: Earache Records


Hardrock Haven rating: 8.5/10