Personnel: Charlie Starr (vocals, guitar); Paul Jackson (guitar, background vocals); Brandon Still (piano, organ); Brit Turner (drums); Richard Turner (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Shawn Grove.
Illustrator: Keith Neltner.
Photographers: David McClister; Michael Schmidt .
Blackberry Smoke are living proof that some things do get better with age. Formed in 2000, this hard-rocking Atlanta, Georgia quintet has been on the road almost as long as the group has been together. After slogging it out for years as a bar band that independently released albums, Blackberry Smoke eventually got opening slots for national touring country and rock acts. After they opened for his band on tour, Zac Brown gave them their first real break and signed them to his Southern Ground label, which released The Whippoorwill in 2012 (their first record to be issued internationally through Earache). Leave a Scar: Live North Carolina captures a 100-plus-minute live set and ranges across Blackberry Smoke's catalog, showcasing the depth in their songwriting, arranging, and performing. What this live presentation reveals is the taut balance of styles that sets them apart from other Southern rock revivalists. While steamy twin lead guitar boogie is an obvious reference point, so are bluegrass, blues, outlaw country, and honky tonk. These cats can play, sure, but the songwriting and arranging stand out, as they have since the band's debut in 2003. Check the pumped-up choogle in new versions of "Sanctified Woman," "Shake Your Magnolia," and "Six Ways to Sunday." And the grooving fusion of bluesy honky tonk and R&B in "Everybody Knows She's Mine" reveals the influence of Delaney & Bonnie to boot. The unsentimental melancholy in "One-Horse Town" is a darker, 21st century take on the same sentiments Steve Earle expressed in "Someday." "Payback's a Bitch" is a killer new song that thunders from hard rock blues and morphs to include fellow Georgians and ancestors the Allman Brothers Band's "Midnight Rider" before shifting seamlessly back. There isn't a weak performance in any of these 22 tracks. The video portion includes visuals of 18 riveting performances, with an excellent tour documentary that delves deep into the band's history and includes interviews and bonus footage. Leave a Scar: Live North Carolina is not only a dynamic live album but an expertly curated greatest-hits set as well. Newcomers would be well advised to actually start here. After a decade and a half together, Blackberry Smoke sound like they're just getting started; from the sounds on display here, their best years are yet to come. ~ Thom Jurek