The rise of Blackberry Smoke, a hard-working, heavy-riffing quintet of southern-fried road monsters, hasn’t exactly been meteoric.
For the past 14-plus years, the Atlanta-based rockers have been enjoying what frontman Charlie Starr calls a “slow build,” playing more than 250 shows a year, touring with ZZ Top, releasing a handful of studio and live discs and, most importantly, forging a legion of rabid fans.
Although their last album, 2012’s The Whippoorwill, helped launch them into the role of southern rock’s newest hirsute ambassadors, their upcoming effort, Holding All the Roses (due in February via Rounder Records), holds the promise of upping the ante.
The 12-song set, which was produced by fellow Atlanta native Brendan O’Brien [AC/DC, Neil Young], is packed with crunchy back-porch grooves, greasy riffs, snarling guitar tones and simply irresistible hooks.
“This record gives the listener a lot to more to listen to,” says Starr, the band’s chief songwriter, singer and guitarist. “There’s nothing wrong with a meat-and-potatoes record like The Whippoorwill, but this time we put a lot more into the pie. Some people might think that means it sounds overproduced, but then I guess it is, because we produced more.”
Besides Starr’s main ax, a 1956 Gibson Les Paul Jr., the Holding All the Roses gear pile includes Starr’s Gibson Music City Jr. with B-Bender, which can be heard on “Fire in the Hole,” a host of vintage Fender and Marshall amps and several by Greg Germino of North Carolina that were built in the style of Sixties Plexi amps.
For Starr, who shares six-string duties with Paul Jackson, it’s all about the riffs.
“I’m a guitar player first, so the songs are always riff-oriented. That part is usually already done, so it’s a tall job for Paul to find a part that complements the riff. Sometimes he and I sit down and work on the whole Allmans-style ‘weaving’ thing, trying to find that guitar magic.”
Photo: Troy Stains