Southern rock reborn with cloud of Blackberry Smoke

Live From Macon, Georgia’s Capricorn Sound Studios, which will be released June 19 with a portion of all proceeds going to the Recording Academy’s MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. Photo by Zach Pigg

Blackberry Smoke began burning up the road 20 years ago with music true to Southern rock at its core, but that blows all over the roots map in rousing, creative style. “Find a Light,” the most recent of its six full-length albums, debuted in the Top 3 on Billboard’s country and Americana/folk charts for good reasons. “Live from Capricorn Sound Studios” features the Atlanta quintet—vocalist/lead guitarist Charlie Starr, guitarist/vocalist Paul Jackson, bassist/vocalist Richard Turner, drummer Brit Turner and keyboardist Brandon Still. It creates a joyous stir at the recently reactivated Macon, Georgia Southern rock church where most of these, and so many other classics, were cut in the 1970s.

The environs, and the sound, couldn’t be any more natural. Through six blazing performances, Blackberry Smoke celebrates the music of The Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie and Little Richard with assurance, reverence, and a Blackberry twist.

Opening with The Allman Brothers Band’s take on Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider,” the players strike the perfect balance of all three qualities. Starr sings in a voice as truly rock and roll as it gets, and plays beautiful, nighttime-blue slide guitar on Duane Allman’s Les Paul Gold Top, on loan from The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House. Blackberry Smoke recently partnered with the Big House to take their show on the road for what’s billed as the Spirit of the South Tour, with the Allman Betts Band and others.

A potent take of The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Take the Highway” follows, with Marcus Henderson of the current Tuckers replicating with incredible flair the flute playing of the original band’s Jerry Eubanks. Wet Willie’s Jimmy Hall and background singers the Black Bettys then join the party for tight, fiery R&B performances of “Keep on Smilin’” and “Grits Ain’t Groceries.” Hall sings and plays harmonica more vigorously than he ever has, it seems. His lighthearted lyrics in the former song hit home at a particularly crucial time, but the rubbery swagger in the latter eases any kind of pain. Those two numbers are surely the highlights.

The disc wraps up with “Southern Child,” a rare, funky, and steamy side of Macon native Little Richard that’s quite surprising. At the end of the day, Blackberry Smoke has captured a half-hour’s worth of excellent, classic Southern rock — down-home perfectly.

— Tom Clarke 

Blackberry Smoke portrait by David Mclister
  • Blackberry Smoke
  • ‘Live from Capricorn Sound Studios’
  • Label: 3 Legged Records
  • Release: Friday, June 19, 2020

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 23 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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