ATLANTA — Over a swampy, stinging guitar line, Charlie Starr belts the first line of “You Hear Georgia,” the title track of Blackberry Smoke’s seventh studio album:
“You hear Georgia when I open my mouth/ Don’t make no difference what I’m talkin’ about/ I let you in and then you throw me out/ You can’t see nothing past this shadow of a doubt.”
As a native Southerner, Starr has endured his own prejudices, as has Blackberry Smoke.
“To an extent, I think when people think of a — quote, unquote — ‘Southern rock band,’ they probably think we’re a bunch of ignorant goofballs,” Starr said recently from his Brookhaven, Ga., home.
But the song was actually inspired when, during last year’s coronavirus lockdown, Starr watched a man on the news being interviewed for a story with serious undertones.
“He had this thick Southern accent and his accent made me smile. He didn’t say anything wrong or stupid, but I thought, I wonder if people around the world are hearing what he says or how he says it?” Starr said. “Ever since I was a young boy, I watched movies that paint Southerners to be bad people or full of hate, and I’ve met good and bad people all over the world. And that’s not the South I grew up in. I didn’t grow up with hateful or ignorant people. So, maybe this is a love letter to the way I grew up.”
The song is among 10 new offerings from the Atlanta-based band, which also includes Brit Turner on drums, Paul Jackson on guitar, Richard Turner on bass and Brandon Still on keyboards. In addition to guests Jamey Johnson (on the country twanger “Lonesome for a Livin’ ”), Gov’t Mule/Allman Brothers Band maestro Warren Haynes (on the blistering “All Rise Again”) and background vocals from The Black Bettys, Blackberry Smoke recruited Dave Cobb, a fellow Georgian as well as Grammy-winning ace producer, to steer the record.
Cobb was adamant about not tinkering with the band’s signature Southern rock-blues jam sound, but, he said, “I just wanted to make the best record we could make.”
At the end of 2019, Cobb invited the band to his Nashville, Tenn., studio on March 20.
“We planned to go up to Canada for a tour and come back and go right back into the studio, which is the best time to record because everyone is ready,” Starr said. “But then we know what happened. And we all came home.”
Last May, Cobb invited Blackberry Smoke to head to Nashville and record at the historic RCA Studio A, which Cobb has commandeered since 2016.
With COVID-19 protocols instituted — though Starr jokes that sometimes while listening to playbacks, band members would forget their masks were hanging around their necks — Cobb and Blackberry Smoke knocked the songs out in 10 days.
The Georgia connection between Cobb and the band presented an additional layer of comfort between producer and band, and also a shared language.
“It’s always good to brag on your home state, and I’m super proud of it,” said Cobb, a Savannah native who grew up in Roswell. “I think of it quite often, how much great music historically has come from Georgia. You have the Capricorn Records story and Ray Charles and Little Richard and Otis Redding and The Black Crowes. All of this incredible music that is not just Southern rock, but country and gospel and soul. Blackberry Smoke has some of all of that in one band.”