Blackie And The Rodeo Kings – [Album]

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Given that Blackie And The Rodeo Kings’ core lineup has been stable since the band’s formation and those core members have enjoyed lengthy, celebrated solo careers, the fact that there are still a few people out there reading this note and wondering to themselves, “Who Is this band and how is it that they’ve earned the release of a greatest hits compilation?” is just plain frustrating. You, the reader, owe it to yourself to know what you’ve missed though (trust me), so the following is a Reader’s Digest rendering of BARK’s back-story.

Blackie And The Rodeo Kings first came together in 1996 when three well-known and respected songwriters – Tom Wilson (ex-Junkhouse), Stephen Fearing and (former Bruce Cockburn sideman and award-winning record producer) Colin Linden – crossed paths and discovered that they all shared a love of singer/guitarist Willie P. Bennett. Because it seemed like a good at the time and none of them had any pressing obligations to attend to, the trio walked into a recording studio and laid down some of Bennett’s songs for a tribute album; they tailored the name of their new outfit to the project at hand (Blackie And The Rodeo Kings is a vamp on the name of Bennett’s 1978 album) and used their formidable talents to breathe a new kind of life into the songs – but no one thought anything would come of it. Initially, the trio agreed to reconvene whenever schedules permitted but the pull back to the band was great and, as time wore on and releases of original Blackie material became more frequent, the one-time side-project has taken on a decidedly more primary role in everyone’s itinerary as the kudos and accolades have become even more regular than new releases. Even so (and this is key to the overall sound and success of Blackie And The Rodeo Kings), no one in the group has ever allowed themselves to think of BARK as anything more than a one hundred percent fun outlet to blow off steam.

And as Swinging From The Chains Of Love proves, that steam is always hot.

Swinging From The Chains Of Love collects select songs from each of Blackie And The Rodeo Kings’ five studio records (including covers of songs by such venerable names as Fred Eaglesmith, Johnny Cash, Janice Powers and, of course, Willie Bennett) and actually cobbles together a set so strong, evenly mixed and balanced that it might very well be the best Best-Of compilation in years for its flow alone; but it ranks even higher when one takes into account the caliber of the songs. From the outset, there is a loose, laidback and infectious, self-assured swagger through songs including “Stoned,” “49 Tons,” “Lean On Your Peers” and the title track that betrays the musicians’ comfort in the climes here; all three guitarists know they don’t have anything to prove because, if it flops, they can just laugh it off and move along and that sense of freedom bleeds beautifully into the music. That freedom and liberated feeling is the upside – the downside is that with such freedom comes a predisposition to free-for-all dynamics and that, in this case, entails loose hands on the mic. It has been said that Tom Wilson is the lead singer for Blackie And The Rodeo Kings, but he isn’t a tyrant about the position in the slightest as, by turns, Fearing and Linden both take turns up front. Those tracks (including “Heaven For A Lonely Man,” “Remedy” and “If I Catch You Crying”) end up carrying with them only a hair less punch (Wilson has that road-weary baritone that suits this music so perfectly)because the quality of the songs remains jaw-droopingly high and the performances of them here can make a listener’s mood run from sweet and mellow to cold as ice.

Is it possible to really make music this good and still not take it seriously as the band has claimed so often? It’s difficult to believe, but even so there is a recurring twinkle of off-the-cuff spontaneity permeating these fourteen songs that says, whether they’re taking it seriously or not, Wilson, Fearing and Linden have been smiling the same sublime smile every time they cut a record together since they started. Whatever they’re doing, they should keep at it because they’re obviously doing it right.


Blackie and The Rodeo Kings online

Blackie and The Rodeo Kings myspace


Swinging From The Chains Of Love is available now at Amazon.

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