A few years back up-and-coming Canadian roots band Blackie & the Rodeo Kings undertook an ambitious project to record an album of duets with female singers they admired and wished they could work with. They pulled it off and that album, Kings And Queens, started getting them noticed by a much wider audience. Fast forward to today and they decided to repeat the idea, this time with male accomplices. The difference being that the stars they perform with are now people they’ve played with, or whose circles they run in. So Kings And Kings stands up as a kind of measure of critical success the band has had over the last half dozen years.
The other thing this record showcases is the band’s versatility. Except for This Lonesome Feeling (a Willie P. Bennett number, who was the inspiration for the band getting together in the first place), the songs are all Kings originals. The band then injects the feel their guest wants to project into the heart of the piece. Opener Live By the Song goes blue-collar with Rodney Crowell on the belief that passion for the music is the only thing that keeps you going. From the opening chords, Long Walk To Freedom has Keb Mo’s vibe all the way through it. There’s no mistaking Raul Malo’s silky vocals on the country swing Highwire.
A couple of the more interesting songs on the record merge the Kings style and that of their duet partner to form an unexpected highlight. Land Of the Living with Jason Isbell ramps up like a U2 arena anthem, but with a subtler guitar approach than Edge’s piercing sound. My favorite song on the album is Playing By Heart with Buddy Miller. With the twin lead guitars of Buddy and various Kings, this is what the Stones would sound like if they were a country band. Play it loud.
Blackie & the Rodeo Kings were formed for a single project, but things clicked so well they just kept at it. And kept at it, and kept at it. If you’ve been to any Americana festival in the last few years I’ll bet they were there on a stage somewhere. That hard work is paying off and between Kings And Kings and Colin Linden’s work with Nashville, you’re going to be hearing more Blackie & the Rodeo Kings.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.