Just because you hail from the South and play rock music doesn’t mean your band’s the next Lynyrd Skynyrd or the new Allman Brothers. But that won’t stop people from labeling you as such.
That’s been happening to Georgia country rock band Blackberry Smoke since they started.
Lead singer Charlie Starr wouldn’t mind if people quit doing that, but he gets that it helps people form a connection. “Of course, we are influenced and inspired by a lot of greats, but we’re just out here doing our own thing,” Starr says.
In fact, the band has collaborated with some of those legacy acts. Upon Chuck Berry’s passing, Starr and company teamed up with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir for a cover of “Promised Land.” That wasn’t the only time they spent with the legend. The Evening at Tri DVD captured the band and Weir at his California studio, coming together on Dead classics like “Deep Elm Blues” and The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek.” Starr says there “aren’t words” to describe how great the experience was.
The Atlanta-born band formed in 2000 and hasn’t changed its original lineup of Starr, Richard Turner (bass, vocals), Paul Jackson (guitar, vocals), Brit Turner (drums), and Brandon Still (keyboards). Starr cites good communication as the key factor in sticking it out through thick and thin. “We have drama like any other band does, but we work through it and get past it and keep moving forward.”
Blackberry Smoke issued the band’s fifth studio album, Like an Arrow, in late 2016, on their own label, 3 Legged Records. And to say it’s been received well is an understatement. It hit No. 1 on several charts, including the U.S. Billboard Country list.
The 12-song release is powerful from the start. The opening track “Waiting for the Thunder” kicks things off with force. It’s a marriage of straight and simple hard rock and country with lyrics that can make you take stock of your position on issues, from personal to global. “Light the fuse and run now brother ’cause you ain’t got a lot of time / Don’t you act surprised when it all goes to hell on your dime / Maybe you can stand tall enough to look the devil eye to eye / But you better make your getaway quick so you don’t have to answer why.”
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“Let It Burn” is a catchy and anthemic number that conjures images of dusty boots clicking and shuffling across splintered-wood dance floors. Coming in under three minutes, it’s a fun and jumpy number sandwiched between the more booming and ferocious tracks. Whether it’s a ballad or a hard rocker, the band never makes it feel like they’re trying too hard to get there. There’s a smoothness and natural flow that happens, making each track a unique offering.
The closing track, “Free on the Wing,” features one of those aforementioned inspirations, Gregg Allman. He and Starr duet, bringing their two rich and deep voices together to create a simultaneously edgy and warm blanket of sound.
The band stops in Phoenix as part of their current tour. Live shows, Starr says, are where it’s at for the band. “We love playing live and our fans do, too, they really get into the shows.” When that’s done, Starr says they’ll take a breather and then get into finalizing the new material they’ve been working on for the next record — tentatively slated for release in 2018.
Blackberry Smoke are scheduled to perform at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe on Thursday, July 20. Tickets are $30 and up via Luckyman.