Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke to perform at Wilkes-Barre’s Kirby Center
Atlanta rockers Blackberry Smoke deserve every accolade they’ve received.
The hard-touring Southern rock quintet has developed a reputation for delivering high-energy, stellar performances that blend country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll as well as any outfit in American music, and they are headed for Wilkes-Barre.
Blackberry Smoke will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at the F.M. Kirby Center in support of their 2016 album “Like An Arrow.” Special guests The National Reserve, from Brooklyn, will open in support.
Formed in 2001, after songwriter and lead vocalist Charlie Starr and sibling rhythm section Richard and Brit Turner began playing Starr’s original music following a tenure in another band, Blackberry Smoke didn’t take long to gel.
“The guy we were playing with was more singer-songwriter-type material,” Starr said. “This was more rocking and very Southern, and it felt really good.”
Excited, Starr called his high school buddy Paul Jackson to join in on lead guitar.
“Paul’s a great guitar player and a great harmony singer,” Starr said. “From the very first rehearsal, I remember thinking it was special, and here we are 16, 17, 18 years later.”
Over that span of time, the band has produced multiple critically acclaimed albums, the last three of which — following from 2012’s “The Whippoorwill” — have resonated on music charts in the U.S. and UK.
Each Blackberry Smoke album invokes a variety of songwriting structures and utilizes sonic elements from multiple genres, making the compositions unique compared even to other Smoke records. “Like An Arrow” is no exception.
“It’s always a study in variety every time I get into writing for a record,” Starr said. “That’s very important to think about for me — to try not to write 12 identical songs.
“So many records that we love dearly, like ‘Physical Graffiti’ and ‘Exile On Main Street’ have so much to listen to and so much to absorb, so many feels and types of songs.”
Blackberry Smoke’s latest opens with the heavy-rocking “Waiting For The Thunder,” which treads in darker territory than much of the band’s previous work.
“Lyrically, I was thinking about how scary the world is and thinking about people who have children,” Starr said. “We all have children in the band except the piano player. It makes you pay attention honestly to what’s going on in your life and what’s going on in the world at large.”
Starr said the bit of “ominous, biblical prophecy” in the song comes from his upbringing as a “Bible Belt kid.”
“People have asked me if it’s about Donald Trump, and I’ve said, ‘No, not at all.’ The person speaking in the song is speaking to all politicians and sort of saying, ‘It’s your turn. Good luck.’”
That portentous, reverberating tone is contrasted by the emotive country balladry of “The Good Life,” and the slinky swamp stomp of “What Comes Naturally,” which are only two of the colors used in “Like An Arrow’s” palette.
The poignant closing tune, “Free On the Wing,” features late Southern rock father Gregg Allman.
A satisfying slice of Americana, the tune features the type of soul-funk organ and razor-sharp slide guitar often highlighted in Allman Brothers Band melodies.
Starr remembers “selfishly” thinking it would great to have Allman’s iconic, elegantly coarse vocals on “Free On the Wing” when it was being tracked.
“I built up the nerve to ask, and he said, ‘Let me hear the song,’” Starr said. “We sent it, and he responded positively. He did it, and it’s just fantastic. I listen to it now, and it’s just surreal to hear that voice.”
Starr said he can’t think of a greater influence on Blackberry Smoke’s music than the Allman Brothers, and in response to those who are poised to hand the Southern rock torch to Blackberry Smoke, Starr offers humility and perspective, citing one of the ABB’s most esteemed alumni.
“I saw recently that Derek Trucks was quoted as saying this kind of torch doesn’t get passed,” Starr said. “Human beings like (Gregg Allman) aren’t really made anymore, and that’s such a great way to look at it. I agree with (Trucks).
“But for people to mention Blackberry Smoke in the same breath as the Allman Brothers is an honor.”
Still on the road, working to promote “Like An Arrow,” Starr said “sooner rather than later” the band will be back in studio recording some of the 15 new songs he’s written. But the frontman has as much appreciation for what’s behind him as he does for what’s to come.
“Most of what we’ve earned, we’ve earned for ourselves,” he said. “The old adage is true. If you want something done right … It’s a testament to our fans and their tenacity, because they hang in there with us and spread our music around.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
IF YOU GO
What: Blackberry Smoke with special guests The National Reserve
Where: F.M. Kirby Center, 72 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Additional information: Tickets cost $25 and $35 and are available at the Kirby Center box office, online at kirbycenter.org and by phone at 570-826-1100.