Blackie and the Rodeo Kings – Kings and Queens

January 01, 1970



It’s hard to get noticed in this age when it seems every day
one hears the name of a dozen or more bands or performers previously unheard.
In Canada,
and in certain singer/songwriter circles, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings are a
super-group composed of three individual major talents. But most of us have
never heard of this band, nor of Stephen Fearing or Tom Wilson or Colin Linden
(except as a producer or session musician with the likes of Bruce Cockburn or
the Band).


Fearing, Wilson, and Linden were thinking more
about the idea of collaborating with some of their favorite singers rather than
creating a marketing ploy, but Kings and
is the perfect way to attract a new audience. Simply put, anyone who
has a soft spot for even a few of the fourteen guest women singers here will
find Blackie and the Rodeo Kings right up their roots-oriented Americana-loving
alley. Kings and Queens features
country royalty such as Emmylou Harris, Pam Tillis and Rosanne Cash; pop
eccentrics including Sam Phillips, Mary Margaret O’Hara, and Serena Ryder;
blues firebrand Janiva Magness; jazz chanteuses Cassandra Wilson and Holly
Cole; the hard-to-pigeonhole types Lucinda Williams, ex-Nickel Creek member
Sara Watkins, Ollabelle singer & daughter of the Bands drummer Amy Helm,
and X vocalist Exene Cervenka; and the rock’n’roll pedigree of Patti Scialfa.


But enter for the familiar and stay for the unknown. The
songs and performances on Kings and
easily convince that it’s worth looking into the six previous albums
from this band, and the solo work of Fearing, Wilson,
and Linden. “Got You Covered,” written by
Linden and Ron Sexsmith (you know, all these Canadians hang out together,
possibly at Geddy Lee’s house), and sung by Linden and Rosanne Cash, is a
charmer of a country pop number. Fearing’s “Golden Sorrows” fits neatly in
Cassandra Wilson’s dark and Southern gothic wheelhouse.  Linden’s
“Made of Love” brings Exene Cervenka on board for a Buddy Holly-styled rocker,
and Fearing “How Come You Treat Me So Bad” is a fierce blues in which he
partners with Janiva Magness.


 All three principals contribute to the songwriting, although it takes a fan’s seasoned ear to identify exactly which voice is tackling singing duties at certain points.  But somebody sings
a Willie P. Bennett song, “Step Away,” with Emmylou Harris, and it’s another
window into the hidden world of songwriters most of us have never encountered.
The name Blackie and the Rodeo Kings actually comes from one of Bennett’s
songs, and the group formed in 1996 to pay tribute to him before moving off
into its own territory. Other covers come from the pens of Canadian Colin James
(the raucous opener “If I Can’t Have You” with guest Lucinda Williams uncharacteristically
playing second fiddle, and the intoxicating slow number “Brave,” featuring
Holly Cole”) and Buddy & Julie Miller (their stunning “Shelter Me,” ripped
to a roaring intensity with guest-vocalist Patti Scialfa.


The musicianship is first-rate, the singing is impeccable,
the songs are engagingly direct and well-constructed. Blackie and the Rodeo
Kings deserve much wider attention than they’ve gotten, and this should easily
be the album to give it to them.


You Covered,” “Golden Sorrows,” “Brave.” STEVE PICK

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