by Matt Watroba, FolkAlley.com
Distinguished Canadian roots music performers, Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson combine to form the band, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. Their high-energy, Alt-country/blues sound began as a collective appreciation project for the late songwriter Willie P. Bennett. Their name, in fact, was lifted from Bennett’s 1978 release, “Blackie and the Rodeo King.” Since forming in 1996, The Kings have released six studio recordings and have performed hundreds of live shows across North America, garnishing numerous awards. Their 2011 release, Kings and Queens, began as a chat in a rental van after a tour. The discussion wandered to the best female vocalists the trio had ever worked with. As you might expect, that list included the best of the best of folk, roots, country, jazz and rock female vocalists. The talk gave way to plans which gave way to the recording of 14 tracks–each highlighting some of the best female vocalists roots music has to offer.
So what names came up in that post-tour conversation? How about Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams? Throw in Cassandra Wilson, Sara Watkins, Pam Tillis, Holly Cole…get the idea? The best of the best. Kings and Queens is a healthy mix of rooted Alt-country, rock and blues soaked ditties written, played, and sung with the highest caliber of craftsmanship. Most of the songs on Kings and Queens were written in collaboration with members of the band with the exception of Buddy and Julie Miller’s “Shelter Me,” featuring the voice of Patty Scialfa. Emmylou Harris is queen to the Kings version of Willie P. Bennett’s “Step Away,” by far the most pared-down, acoustic track on the CD. Other co-writers outside the court include Ron Sexsmith and Collin James among others including “My Town Has Moved Away,” a song co-written and co-sung by Pam Tillis. Other highlights include the duet between Stephen Fearing and Sara Watkins, “Another Free Woman Gets To Walk Away,” Queen Casandra Wilson singing with Fearing on “Golden Sorrows,” and the soulful, “Brave” featuring Holly Cole.
With few exceptions, the Queen’s role on Kings and Queens is that of duet or harmony singer. The Rodeo Kings take the lead on most tracks. The unique flavor each woman adds to their respective contribution is what makes this CD so interesting, and will most likely keep you coming back for more. Look for several of these tracks in the stream at folkalley.com.