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Blackberry Smoke records new music during pandemic

Blackberry Smoke will play an acoustic show Friday at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre. (Submitted photo)

Charlie Starr hasn’t spent this much time at home in 20 years.

The Blackberry Smoke singer and guitar player started a garden and whittled down the honey-do list.

“It’s been great to be home with family and basically spend a spring and summer and now into fall with our kids and our wives,” Starr said during a telephone interview. “You got to see what you’ve been missing for a lot of the time.”

It wasn’t all domestic bliss during the COVID-19 pandemic. Starr and the rest of the band — Paul Jackson, guitar and vocals; Richard Turner, bass and vocals; Brit Turner, drums; and Brandon Still, keyboards — also recorded a new album with producer Dave Cobb.

“It was just us and Dave and an engineer all at least 6 feet from each other,” Starr said. “We kept safe and came out unscathed. It’s a good record and I’m really excited for the world to hear it.

“It’s definitely loud and a rock ‘n’ roll record, but as soon as I say that, there are a couple songs that will make you wanna cry … It’s a big guitar record, but I guess all our records are big guitar records. It sounds really good. It’s us playing together in a big room and it sounds that way.

“Dave is a great producer. He hears what I might not or we might not. And a couple songs come from this frustration of what’s going on. It couldn’t help but have that effect on some of the lyrics.”

The record doesn’t have a release date since full-blown touring still isn’t an option, but Starr expects it to be out in early 2021.

Blackberry Smoke has started playing live again. The band did a few gigs last month, and it will perform Friday at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.

Starr said the drive-in concerts have been an adjustment, especially one where the band played without a PA system and the sound went straight to the concertgoers’ car radios.

“That was the kookiest, but it’s still just enjoyable to make that connection with people,” he said. “That’s what a live show is about, connecting with an audience. We did a couple minor league baseball parks, and those people were really far from the stage. That was strange right off the bat, but you forget about it when you see people dancing and having fun, and then it’s just normal, I guess.”

The Youngstown show will feature the band in an acoustic setup.

“It’s a stripped down look at the songs and what we do,” Starr said. “It’s a little more intimate maybe and a lot of laughter … I do write on acoustic guitar and this takes them back to their roots, strips them down to their naked form. There’s nothing to hide behind — we better play and sing well.”

While fans will have to wait for the new album, Blackberry Smoke did release a live EP during the pandemic.

“Live from Capricorn Sound Studio” was the first session by a major act at the legendary Macon, Ga., recording studio in 40 years and features Blackberry Smoke covering songs made famous by Georgia acts like the Allman Brothers Band, Wet Willie and the Marshall Tucker Band.

Wet Willie vocalist Jimmy Hall joined the band for “Keep on Smiling” and “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” and Marshall Tucker Band’s flutist Marcus Henderson plays the flute solo on MTB’s “Take the Highway.”

The session originally was planned to generate some promotional material for Blackberry Smoke’s summer tour with the Allman Betts Band, Jaimoe and the Wild Feathers (who will open Friday’s concert). That tour now has been bumped to 2021, but the band decided to make the recording session available digitally with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Recording Academy’s MusiCares for COVID-19 Relief Fund.

“It just sounded so good, not that we thought it would sound bad, but this was great. It felt like home. At the end of the day, we thought people might want to own this … This feels like the way it should be — no click track, no overdubs, just people singing and playing their instruments and doing the best they can.”

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WHO: Blackberry Smoke and the Wild Feathers

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre, 229 E. Front St., Youngstown

HOW MUCH: $39.50 and $13.

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