Canadians Blackie and the Rodeo Kings have nothing whatsoever to do with cowboys and bucking broncos. They do, though, very neatly rope tie three fascinating characters into a singular roots music sound.
Colin Linden on his own mixes folk, country, the blues and gospel. Plus, he’s a world-class producer. Tom Wilson, aka Lee Harvey Osmond, adds cryptic, psychedelic edges. Stephen Fearing, raised in Ireland, brings his stylized folk. All three sing and play guitar. Their rhythm section’s rock-steady.
Two albums ago, in 2011, Blackie recorded “Kings and Queens,” featuring royalty like Emmylou Harris and Amy Helm singing the songs of, and with, the three Kings. The concept, and the equally inspired pairings, play just as wonderfully on “Kings and Kings.” That so many other distinct, and highly regarded personalities intertwine with Blackie to the great benefit of both is really something to behold.
In each case, the artists fully assimilate each other’s sound. Rodney Crowell begins it all with the life-defining “Live by the Song,” followed by new Southern country man Eric Church on the Band-like, churchy “Bury My Heart.” Then, Wilson’s “Beautiful Scars” appears. A beautifully frank heartbreak song for the ages, sung brilliantly by the author in duet with Nashville’s City and Colour (aka Dallas Green), that perfect gem is an early album highlight. But by no means the only. “Highwire” floats as it should, highlighting Fearing with The Mavericks’ Raul Malo, who’s in typically, elegantly fine voice. And, speaking of cool voices, how about the 1970s self-proclaimed Jesus of Cool, Nick Lowe, as vibrant as ever on Fearing’s “The Secret of a Long-lasting Love?” A glowing, jangly vibe in the song makes it sound like a track from a classic Lowe album. Buddy Miller lends his easygoing rowdiness to Linden’s catchy “Playing by Heart,” and Jason Isbell his epic ways to Wilson’s soaring “Land of the Living.” The first single, Wilson’s mysterious, low-riding “Bitter and Low,” in duet with Fantastic Negrito,” is quite an enticer. But this album flows incredibly from start to finish. Highly recommended.
Related story: Album review — Lee Harvey Osmond’s”Beautiful Scars.” LINK
- Blackie and the Rodeo Kings
“Kings and Kings”
Label: Canada Factor