We’ve changed our minds! While I’d argue that Holding All The Roses is a rock album first (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Blackberry Smoke has always marketed themselves to country. They bring forth an excellent southern rock sound that blends country and rock ‘n roll as if the two are meant to be together. Even though this may be their most rock album of their collection, Blackberry Smoke still delivers some quality country tunes on this album. With all that said, plus due to the mere fact that Holding All The Roses hit number 1 on the Country Charts, Josh and I have changed our minds and are reviewing Holding All The Roses.
After checking out of Southern Ground Records, the Georgia rockers teamed up with Rounders Records and producer Brendan O’Brien for this new record. O’Brien has produced for the likes of AC/DC, Pearl Jam, and Bruce Springsteen. With Brendan O’Brien at the helm, it comes as no surprise that Blackberry Smoke channels their rock side more on this album. “Let Me Help You (Find The Door)” starts the album off with a bang with drums kicking a guitars licks setting the stage for a head-banger that likens to an Angus Young guitar riff. And the opening lyrics set the scene perfectly: “Why’s it got to be the same damn thing, the same damn song that everybody wants to sing? The same sons of bitches still rigging the game; they sell the same old face with a brand new name.” One can’t help but think of the frustrating state of mainstream country listening to this song. The title track vents even more frustration. It’s the end of the line for lead man Charlie Starr in this song, and he’s ready to beat whatever’s keeping him down and move past it, victorious. “Holding All The Roses” trades acoustic guitars for electric between the verses and chorus, and the guitar solo in this one is fantastic.
For my money, “Living In The Song” has one of the top vocal performances of the album. It’s a song about living out the words to an old lonely, heartbreak song. He lets his pride get the best of him and his relationship, and he continues to live with a glass half-empty mindset of life. But on the flip side, the next track, “Rock And Roll Again” depicts the opposite. Here his baby is back and she’s helped him “get the rhythm in my stride again.” This is the shortest song with vocals on the album, but it’s one of the top overall tracks. An old-time rock and roll sound with simple guitar beats and drums, but great lyrics and vocals. “Rock And Roll Again” is just a fun song.
Blackberry Smoke slows it down for “Woman In The Moon.” This is a song about doing things in life your own, unique way. Living outside the circle and a tad bit off kilter, “Woman In The Moon” depicts a free spirit. Fittingly, this track features one of the more unique productions with some heavy guitar riffs and a slight screeching fiddle below the vocals. “Too High” is the most country song of the bunch. An acoustic guitar riff opens up the song with a sound that seems straight from an outlaw country song. Here his life’s rough and dragging him down: “That mountain is too high for me to climb.” This negative feeling is only temporary though.
“Wish In One Hand” tells the story of a man, or maybe a group of people, who want to be top dogs: the friendliest, the richest, the best. Yet we know that this “good boy image” is just one side, and wish as they may, they won’t be able to hide their dirty little secrets. Plus, this song features one of the best lines of the album: “Wish in one hand, shit in the other.” After a quick acoustic instrumental titled “Randolph Country Farewell”, we get the biting “Payback’s A Bitch.” The heavy guitar riffs and drums drive a tune about a man waiting for karma to get a woman who screwed him over. “Lay It All On Me” tells a little saga about hiding life’s dark secrets: a girl with a complicated family life. Her brother’s been scorned by a cheater, her dad’s a drinker and her mom is a bible-thumper. When she falls in love with the song’s narrator, he cheats on her and gets caught and is now running and hiding from her and her brother. It’s a fun, lighthearted country inspired song.
My personal favorite of the bunch is “No Way Back To Eden.” This song depicts how life has gotten too rough. Broken hearts, mistakes, sins have left us broken, and even though we may baptize ourselves or try to make ourselves feel better, the material world is beyond fixing. It’s an interesting mindset with some creative uses of religious elements to tell the story. But the acoustic melody driving this song is what sets this song apart. The album concludes with the wicked, angry “Fire In The Hole.” It’s a song about dealing with shady folks who control the way things work. Perhaps a studio executive? Lyrics like “You cross your fingers when you look me in my eyes” and “I can’t see why you are the one who holds the key, when you take yours it looks like nothing left for me” lead me to believe that. The production on this song is intense and ends the album just as rocking as it started.
Overall, Holding All The Roses is what southern rock is all about. Each song is unique and adds quality to the album. The lyrics are fresh and just damn fun to listen to; it’s really hard to find a song on here that’s bad. The album is paced well and even when Blackberry Smoke venture down a country alley for a song or two, those country songs are better than pretty much everything that radio offers. Holding All The Roses has a throwback feel to a golden era of rock and country music, delivering on every track. Their previous album, The Whippoorwill, was fantastic in its own right, but Blackberry Smoke followed it up with an equally outstanding record. Holding All The Roses will be a tough act to follow.