There was a time Southern rock ruled. Multiple iterations of the Allman Brothers Band pushed the boundaries of blues and country into improvisational jazz while other acts relied more on cowboy hats and Confederate flag-waving. That’s why it’s good to see Blackberry Smoke knowing how to remain a hard-rocking Southern band and avoid the pitfalls of overplaying their roots.
The Blackberry boys hail from Atlanta and have been at it for nearly 20 years. The core members remain intact, with Charlie Starr on vocals and guitar, Paul Jackson on guitar, Richard Turner on bass and brother Brit Turner on drums. Keyboardist Brandon Still joined in 2009. Earlier this year, the band released its sixth studio album, Find A Light, and is now touring extensively on the East Coast before heading to Europe in the fall.
The Blackberry faithful turned out in force for two consecutive nights at New York’s Irving Plaza on Friday, September 7th and Saturday, September 8th. Kicking off the Friday show with “Nobody Gives a Damn” from the new album, Starr and company laid down long and energetic sets of old and new tunes. There were “Six Ways to Sunday” and “Sleeping Dogs” from The Whippoorwill and “Lay It All On Me” and “Living in the Song” from Holding All the Roses. There was even a segue into The Beatles’ “Come Together.”
Starr is clearly Blackberry’s frontman, looking a little like Neil Young from his Buffalo Springfield days. The songwriting is solid and Starr can shred on guitar, pulling his band mates along with him. It’s hard not to make comparisons to Southern stalwarts like Lynyrd Skynyrd, but Blackberry Smoke’s sound goes beyond guitar overkill, adding softer ballads and rootsier tunes. The boys are obviously having fun, as are their fans.
Following the upcoming Blackberry Smoke European tour, the band will be back home in time for Thanksgiving and their annual Brothers & Sisters Homecoming at The Tabernacle in Atlanta. For a full list of upcoming dates, head to the Blackberry Smoke website.