“We’re a rock & roll band from Georgia,” says Blackberry Smoke singer, guitarist and chief songwriter Charlie Starr.
But that may be simplifying things. Especially when one looks at this week’s charts, where the group’s new album Like an Arrow appears in the Number One slot on both the country and the newly created Americana chart, and sits comfortably at Number Three on the rock albums chart.
The Georgia rockers weigh in on the surprise Number One debut of their album ‘Holding All the Roses’ and the Southern rock renaissance
Such is the broad appeal of Blackberry Smoke, a Southern-rock group that can toggle easily between shit-kicking country, funky soul and blistering heavy rock. Like an Arrow hits all those marks, delivering classic-country storytelling in “The Good Life,” Muscle Shoals R&B in “Believe You Me” and what Starr says are “the heaviest songs we’ve ever done” in the title track and “Waiting for the Thunder.”
“We’ve never changed really. The name of the genre that they stick to us just changes,” says Starr, puffing on a vape pen outside Nashville club the Basement, where he and bandmates Brit Turner (drums), Richard Turner (bass), Paul Jackson (guitar) and Brandon Still (keys) are rehearsing not for a balls-out rock show, but a special country-leaning acoustic gig. “It confuses some people because we obviously have a deep love for traditional country music. And our debut record was a rock & roll record through and through. People are like, ‘This doesn’t make any sense?’ But it makes complete and total sense for us, because the Stones did it and Zeppelin had ‘Hot Dog.’ And Marshall Tucker was a rock & roll band, but yet they’d have songs with pedal steel.”
“Smoke is to Southern rock what Sturgill Simpson is to country. They keep it classic and pure, yet constantly bring new fans to the genre,” says Jaren Johnston, singer-guitarist for fellow Southern-rock and country revivalists the Cadillac Three. “We have always looked up to those guys. They are going to be carrying the torch that the Allmans and Lynyrd Skynyrd helped light.”
Whatever arbitrary adjective the industry chooses to describe Blackberry Smoke’s sound, there’s no denying what the Georgia band does is working. The chart-topping debut of Like an Arrow marks their second consecutive Number One album on the country charts, following last year’s Holding All the Roses. Brendan O’Brien (Bruce Springsteen) produced that record, but for Like an Arrow, the band called all the shots.
Starr says the album, which was recorded, mixed and mastered in just a month’s time, was a bit of a surprise. The band had time off last January and decided to fiddle with some new songs.