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Thursday 8 February 2024

Blackberry Smoke new album's life-affirming message

A LESSER band of brothers might have despaired that the fates were against them. First, Covid, then a major health crisis, have conspired in recent years to scupper Blackberry Smoke’s plans.

The Atlanta southern rock band, grown from country roots, saw the release of their last album – the chart-topping You Hear Georgia – delayed by a year because of the pandemic.

And their new album, Be Right Here – set for release on February 16 – was recorded back in late 2022 as drummer Brit Turner began his recovery from surgery to remove a brain tumour.

Turner’s bombshell brain cancer diagnosis followed the heart attack he had suffered earlier in 2022, for which he also underwent major surgery, and the 2009 cancer that struck his daughter, Lana.

But Blackberry Smoke are made of sterner stuff than most and it says much for their grit and determination that they’re on their way back to Birmingham for a gig at the 02 Academy this summer.

Happily, Turner’s recovery has gone well – he designed the new album jacket and hopes to be back behind the drums in Birmingham – while his daughter’s cancer is in remission. 

Lana has gone on to become a successful actress, famously playing Seven in the fourth season of smash hit Stranger Things.

The health scares have, says frontman Charlie Starr, made them all appreciate every day they enjoy together with bandmates, family and friends. Since 2011, the band has also donated more than £800,000 - a million dollars - to childhood cancer research.

“It gave the recording process, and then everything after, a sense of urgency,” says Starr says of Be Right Here. “But we didn’t feel a whole lot of pressure to go in and make this one quickly.

“It didn’t hurry us but rather made all that time really precious. Everybody took a long hard look at it and count our blessings – we get to make music and make records and work together.

“And it just made it all seem so special.”

The eighth studio album is already picking up plaudits thanks to the now commonplace streaming of initial tracks to build anticipation of the full set’s release.

The consensus is that, almost a quarter century since they first got together, the band may well have come up with their best yet, a blend of country, rock and Americana recorded mostly live.

Lead track Dig A Hole sums up the album’s evolution in adversity.“In life, we all are faced with choices,” Starr says. “Are we going to do good, or are we going to do bad?

“Are we going to love, or are we going to hate? We have a finite amount of time, each of us on this Earth. So we probably want to make the best out of it instead of wasting time.”

Elsewhere, both Azalea and Other Side Of The Light have hints of Midland supergroup Led Zeppelin, of whom Starr has always been a fan, occasionally dropping Zeppelin covers in the live setlist.

The band played a sold-out Academy gig last year, and wanted to return such has been the long-time support of fans on this side of the Atlantic, particularly in Birmingham, the home of heavy metal.

Support comes from Nashville country rockers The Steel Woods, friends of the band and themselves a big attraction back in the States. Be Right Here is out on February 16.

  • Blackberry Smoke, 02 Academy Birmingham, September 13.

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