Country rockers plot their escape on 'Find a Light'

On “Run Away from It All,” a song off Blackberry Smoke's 2018 full-length, Find a Light, singer and guitarist Charlie Starr briefly surveys the turbulence surrounding him and then hightails it to calmer pastures.

“Miles and miles wide open for me,” he sings on the country rock track, which sounds designed to accompany long drives down deserted highways, windows down, not a cloud in the sky.

“The world is so dark and scary, current events being what they are. … Every day it's just this struggle, so it's like, you know what, it's a beautiful summer day, I'm going to turn off this news and go outside with my kids and I'm not going to worry who hates the president, or who loves him, or whatever,” said Starr, who joins his bandmates in headlining an outdoor show at Express Live on Tuesday, July 24. “A lot of people would get pissed at me for saying that, like, ‘You've gotta take a stand!' … But I'm tired of hearing that. I want to go live my life and make music and enjoy my family instead of trying to be an agent of change. That's just the way I look at it. The title of the record and a lot of the lyrical content has to do a lot with that idea: Take me away from all this. It's so dark in here that I have to get out and find some light.”

Throughout, the long-running band showcases its versatility, veering between bottle-throwing roadhouse rockers like “Flesh and Bone” and more genteel, pastoral turns like “Mother Mountain.”

Over the course of the album's 13 tracks, Starr's search for light plays out as a spiritual pursuit as much as a human one. There are numerous nods to the frontman's Protestant upbringing, which surfaces both in his words— “I had a conversation with Alice Cooper about it, because Alice Cooper's father is a minister, and he said the same thing: ‘Oh my God, it's the best material ever!'” Starr said of his fondness for religious imagery — and in the band's music. Witness the gospel-rock rave-up “I'll Keep Ramblin',” which finds Blackberry Smoke and guest Robert Randolph combining to shake the rafters.

“My grandmother's brothers were gospel singers in a really popular quartet called the Swanee River Boys. Robert, obviously, grew up playing the sacred steel in church. And that song's kind of a meeting of the two,” Starr said.

The track is indicative of Blackberry Smoke's approach as the group nears its 20th anniversary, in which the bandmates continue to stretch themselves musically while holding to a sound best described as vintage.

“In this day and age — the digital age, as it were — so much time is spent in the studio trying to reach perfection, and that's not what it's about to me,” said Starr. “It's about passion and the magic five people can create in the moment. … It's not about things lining up perfectly in the grid. That sounds robotic. Or maybe that's just me sounding like an old man.”