Blackie and the Rodeo Kings – Kings and Queens

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Who are Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson? Well I don’t know, but they sure have talented friends.

These guys hail from different parts of Canada and make up Blackie & the Rodeo Kings – a band I knew nothing about until purchasing Kings and Queens this year. Between them, they have released many albums in their own right, have turned their hand to production and collaborated with the likes of Robert Plant, Leon Redbone and Bruce Cockburn.

Fearing, Linden, and Wilson joined forces in 1996 to pay homage to Willie P. Bennett, a singer and songwriter from Ontario. The trio recorded an album of Bennett’s songs called High or Hurtin’: The Songs of Willie P. Bennett, and released it under the group name Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, a reference to the title of an album Bennett released in 1978.

The album was well received and the three reconvened in 1999 for a second release, Kings of Love, – mainly a covers album but with a few originals. In 2004, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings released Bark, their first album dominated by original material, which solidified the group’s scrappy but potent mix of blues, country, and rock influences. Let’s Frolic followed in 2006 and then an extremely well regarded Swinging From the Chains of Love in 2008.

On 2011’s Kings and Queens, each of the 14 tracks features duet vocals from a different female artist, including Emmylou Harris, Pam Tillis, Lucinda Williams, Sam Phillips, Janiva Magness, Rosanne Cash, Cassandra Wilson, Amy Helm and Patti Scialfa (pretty dang impressive). The music is folk rock/alternative country with blues and country influences – just about everything that you need in this life.

After you get past the stellar guest list, what you might notice is the playing and sound on the album. For instance the guitar lead of Stephen Fearing has that certain distinctive sound – quite a bit like Derek Trucks (on Derek’s slower stuff at least). The drumming too – it’s a light feel. I have always thought that Jim Keltner had this unique high action but delicate touch with the skins and I am reminded of that style here. Then the dobro and mandolin work by Colin Linden is sublime and tasteful.

This is a beatifully put together collection. My favourite tracks are “Golden Sorrows” with Cassandra Wilson in fine form, the Buddy and Julie Miller penned “Shelter Me” (with Patti Scialfia) and “Love Lay Me Down” with Sam Phillips.

The No Depression website review went something like this:

Perfectly conceived and immaculately executed, the resulting CD is easily among the best I’ve heard this year. Or any year.

Luckily an deluxe version of the CD was released this year. Because I get to put this in my Top Ten of 2012. Stay tuned.

Released through: FU:M

Rating: 5 of 5

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Author: Rob Dickens

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