Music News & Reviews

Blackberry Smoke, due at Thunder Valley, keeps it simple and rockin’

The Southern rock band Blackberry Smoke was influenced by the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others.
The Southern rock band Blackberry Smoke was influenced by the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others. By Ross Halfin

There’s nothing pretentious about Blackberry Smoke when the Georgia rockers hit the stage.

“No frills” is how singer-guitarist Charlie Starr described it, “a loud guitar show.”

“We play our music, and we have a good time,” Starr said. “It’s a rock ’n’ roll show. It’s not necessarily politically correct, and sometimes it’s not child-friendly – that’s according to what time we start. It’s loud and it’s fun.”

It’s also tightly fused, the sound of a band made up of veteran rockers with 250 or more shows nearly every year in the 14 years since it was formed. The group’s tour brings it to Thunder Valley Casino-Resort on Sept. 10.

Blackberry Smoke is hailed as a band that’s reclaiming Southern rock for the South. That wasn’t part of the original plan, but it may have been inevitable.

“Whether it was the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band or the Stones, Tom Petty and Led Zeppelin, that stuff is ingrained in our makeup. That’s what we learned to play. The stuff you learn to play, you eventually secrete that. It just comes out.”

It really comes out on “Holding All the Roses,” Blackberry Smoke’s first album under a new deal with Rounder Records. The 12-song disc was produced by Brendan O’Brien, who has done records for AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Neil Young.

“He’s got great, great instincts about songs, and he’s got great, great tones, great big guitar sounds, great big drum sounds,” Starr said of O’Brien. “We knew going in it was going to be a big-sounding record.”

Like its predecessor, “The Whippoorwill,” much of “Holding All the Roses” was recorded live in the studio. Then O’Brien turned it into a big rock record with all the bells and whistles.

“There are some funny things on there, like on ‘Physical Graffiti,’” Starr said. “I’m not comparing us to Led Zeppelin, but there’s some of the same ear candy on there, twists and turns, interesting stuff, stuff the Beatles probably invented. That’s how I look at it. That we’re a rock ’n’ roll band that’s spicing it up.”

That blend is satisfying for Starr, who says he thinks “Holding All the Roses” is the band’s best album.

“Every record should sound different, in my opinion, for ourselves if not for the listeners,” he said. “I’m still listening to it quite often. I’m really proud of it. It covers a lot of ground. There’s a lot of big, riffing rock ’n’ roll songs and some cool moments.”

“My job is to write the set list, and I usually do it about two hours before the show because I procrastinate,” Starr said. “It’s a fun thing to do, to give people a different show every night. As we make more albums and are together longer and longer, it gets harder to write the set list.

“Not like the Stones or anything, but we’ve got some songs that we have to play or people are real disappointed,” he said. “They’ll let you hear about it, too, on Facebook and places like that. They’ll say, ‘They didn’t play this or that and I’m pissed.’ So you didn’t like the other two hours? But I’d be the same way if I went to see Tom Petty, and he didn’t play ‘Refugee.’”

Though it has performed with the Zac Brown Band and Eric Church, and had an album hit the country charts, Blackberry Smoke isn’t country.

“We’re not a country band, not even close,” Starr said. “But the Stones are a rock ’n’ roll band, the Grateful Dead was a rock ’n’ roll band, and they both could play a country song as good as a country band. That kind of music, traditional country, is a big influence on us, especially me. But we’re a rock ’n’ roll band. I’ve always wondered why anybody would think we’re a country band.”

Blackberry Smoke

What: The Southern rock band shares billing with ZZ Topas part of the About the Summer Concert series

When: 7 p.m. Sept. 10

Where: Thunder Valley Casino-Resort Casino Resort, Lincoln

Cost: $45-$190