Album Reviews

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings

Kings and Kings

Artist:     Blackie and the Rodeo Kings

Album:     Kings and Kings

Label:     File Under: Music

Release Date:     01/13/2017


As this a companion album to 2011’s Kings and Queens, comparisons are inevitable. Let’s get to them straight away. The former album had a more diverse group of guests across a few genres and perhaps because the female voices offered a stronger contrast to the males, the guest contributions usually outshined those of the band. Here, the band prevails despite the star studded guest lineup. Given the names gathered here, this is a notch or two below my lofty expectations. Nonetheless, the material is strong and the three principals, Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson, more than hold their own with the better known guests. This is a natural project for them. After all, the one that brought them together and gave them their group name was a tribute to Canadian singer/songwriter Willie P. Bennett, and they’ve never been hesitant to cover songwriters they look up to or bring in guest artists they admire. This is certainly an impressive list of guests: Rodney Crowell, Eric Church, Raul Malo, Buddy Miller, Nick Lowe, Bruce Cockburn, Jason Isbell, Keb’ Mo’ and Vince Gill. On the more contemporary side they added City and Colour, Fantastic Negrito and Men of Nashville (the TV show).

The album begins with “Live By The Song”– a rarity in that it was written by all three of the principals– that serves as a kind of autobiography for this band and many bands. Rodney Crowell helps out while Stephen Fearing takes the lead. Fearing’s ‘‘High Wire” conjures up Roy Orbison, and who better to convey that spirit than Raul Malo. Nick Lowe pens and actually takes the entire lead on “Secret of a Long Lasting Love.” Longtime cohorts Linden and Bruce Cockburn trade verses and guitar licks on “A Woman Gets More Beautiful.” As with every Blackie and the Rodeo Kings album, they pay tribute to their namesake, Willie P. Bennett, and Vince Gill assists on the mournful cowboy tune, “This Lonesome Feeling.” The more bluesy offerings are “Long Walk to Freedom” with Keb’ Mo’ and Wilson’s “Bitter and Low,” with the Grammy nominated Fantastic Negrito. Speaking of Wilson and his widely acclaimed solo release, Beautiful Scars, authored under the moniker Lee Harvey Osmond, he renders the title track with help from Dallas Green (City and Colour). Rather than detail every track, you should listen to this talented band, long one of North America’s best.

As you probably know, the three principals engage in many other projects but the band has been together for 20 years, received one Juno Award and countless Juno nominations. Colin Linden, who splits his time between Toronto and Nashville, is widely respected in both blues and roots circles. He and his bandmates, Wilson and Fearing, prove that they can stand alongside more widely known names and, in many cases, actually steal the focus away from them.

-Jim Hynes

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