When Charlie Starr started writing the songs that would become Blackberry Smoke’s new album, Be Right Here, the first tune the vocalist/lead guitarist worked up was “Dig A Hole.” Formed by an old guitar riff married with a Wurlitzer chorus riff written by keyboardist Brandon Still, the swampy psychedelic-rock song is a powerful statement about choosing your path in life—whether you want to give into temptation or walk a more righteous road.
“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 probably want to make the best out of it instead of wasting time.”
“Dig A Hole” is the lead track on Be Right Here and sets the tone for another expansive set of rock ‘n’ roll from Blackberry Smoke. As always, the Georgia-based band—Starr, Still, guitarist/vocalist Paul Jackson, bassist/vocalist Richard Turner and drummer Brit Turner—draw inspiration from Southern rock, blues-leaning classic rock and rootsy vintage country. But on Be Right Here, Blackberry Smoke sound even more self-assured, from the strength of their songwriting to their musical execution.
Over the past two decades, Blackberry Smoke has developed this confidence and amassed a loyal fanbase, leading their last five full-length albums to achieve great chart success, including 2021’s You Hear Georgia, which reached #1 on Billboard’s Americana/Folk Albums chart.
The band wrote and recorded You Hear Georgia during the most intense periods of the pandemic but held off on releasing it until they could go tour again. Starr says Blackberry Smoke took the same deliberate approach with Be Right Here, which was recorded in late 2022 and early 2023, around the same time drummer Brit Turner was diagnosed with a type of brain tumor known as Glioblastoma. “We didn’t feel a whole lot of pressure to go in and make this one quickly,” Starr shares. Today, Turner continues to receive treatment while remaining an active and steadfast force in the band.
Working once again with Grammy-Award winning producer Dave Cobb, Blackberry Smoke has crafted music that’s raw and immediate-sounding. They tracked the album live in the same space; an approach Cobb also prefers as it lends itself to a looser vibe. “I remember different times I would say, ‘I think we should redo that,’ and he’s like, ‘No, leave it that way. That way it’s magical,” Starr remembers. “It’s just as natural and real as possible.”
Location also factored into Be Right Here’s sound as they recorded most of the album at Nashville’s beloved RCA Studio A, and then polished it off in Cobb’s studio in Savannah, Georgia. “It’s down in the low country and beautiful,” Starr says of the space, called Georgia Mae. “This album has a swagger to it, a deep in the pocket kind of feel. Those surroundings helped give the record that feel.”
Be Right Here’s lyrics are particularly literary, full of vivid and relatable characters that ensure the songs often resemble rich short stories. For example, “Whatcha Know Good,” a co-write with Brent Cobb, is a “feel-good song” driven by an amiable narrator who gets along with everybody and dislikes negativity. “There’s plenty of bad news when you turn on the television,” Starr says. “The dude in this song, he doesn’t want to hear it anymore. He wants to go to fishing and talk about good news. We were giggling the whole time because we know that guy. Maybe we are that guy.”
A laid-back, Stones-like guitar lick from former Buckcherry guitarist Keith Nelson inspired “Like It Was Yesterday,” helping Starr conjure another very specific character: an earnest young guy who doesn’t have much life experience, but knows what he likes and is grateful for good times. “I picture him laying on the hood of his car with his girl, staring up at the moon and the stars,” Starr says. “It’s the idea of holding onto that fleeting moment, because it can slip away from you.”
Other Be Right Here highlights include “Azalea” and “Little Bit Crazy,” both co-written with Starr’s frequent songwriting collaborator Travis Meadows. The latter song, which begins with a chorus of soulful gospel singers before blooming into a languid Southern rocker, features a narrator who’s embroiled in a relationship that’s fun, but not necessarily healthy.
Meanwhile, the lovely, elegiac folk ballad “Azalea” is centered on someone who seems emotionally bereft and spiritually lost, but is working hard to find their way home. “It’s a heavy song. It’s not a happy song, per se,” Starr says. However, “Azalea” has a distinct streak of optimism near the end, which Starr says is intentional: “There’s some hope in there, too. It comes with both Travis and I being fathers. Hold on to your kids as tight as you can without smothering them.”
The delicate balance of familial protection also permeates the easygoing “Other Side of the Light,” a co-write with Levi Lowrey. Written from the perspective of a young boy on an obstacle-filled road trip, the tune stresses that he’ll find shelter and safety with his mom. In contrast, the stomping “Hammer and the Nail,” which Starr wrote with Nelson, takes another approach to family ties—in this case, a son who needs to decide if he’s going to give into his wild side and take after his rebellious father. Fittingly, lively acoustic guitar gives way to an explosive chorus with freewheeling bar-blues piano and raucous electric riffs.
Be Right Here ends on a confident note, the organ-driven power ballad, “Barefoot Angel.” Starr says he doesn’t write many love songs, but made an exception here. “It’s either me singing about my wife or some guy singing about his wife that’s in the same situation, which is, I wouldn’t be able to do anything without her. When I’m worried and feeling bad, she makes it better.”
For Blackberry Smoke, embracing the light and finding the silver lining are once again at the heart of what they do best.
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