Not so long ago when someone said the latest record from a group was more “radio friendly” it meant they’d sold out and gone from what made them unique to something more appealing to the mainstream, at least as judged by some nameless, faceless A & R guy. But with most people listening to music on their iPods and radio devolving to knee-jerk political hyperbole and older demographic-skewed sameness, I’m not sure radio friendly means anything anymore. So I want to hijack the term, put it in the way-back machine, and redefine it in the spirit of its origins to mean a group is poised to be heard and enjoyed by a much larger audience. And by that definition the latest release from Blackie & the Rodeo Kings is radio friendly.
The premise of Kings and Queens is an interesting twist on an idea frequently played out: get some famous names to do duets with the artist to revive a down-and-to-the-left sales forecast. Only in this case the Kings have never been top selling artists, although they’ve received some critical acclaim in their native Canada. And the duets weren’t with who the producer could round up, but with female artists (hence the Kings & Queens title) the group either had enjoyed playing with before or wished they could have done something together. And it works pretty darn well.
Generally speaking the songs on the album fall into one of two camps. The first is the roots/alt country music that has generally defined the group’s first several recordings (and from my experience their live shows). The best of this lot is Another Free Woman, featuring Sara Watkins, with its Radar Love-driving beat and cynical observation on wife abuse. Got You Covered, with Roseanne Cash, is another one in this bucket, as is If I Can’t Have You, with Lucinda Williams. The other style thread is more a slow ballad thing that features the singers. You can’t help but like the Willie P. Bennett number, Step Away, with Emmylou lending her unmistakeable voice to the mix. And there’s My Town Has Moved Away with Pam Tillis.
If there’s an exception to the categorization of the song list it’s How Come You Treat Me Sooooo Bad, or the Buddy & Julie Miller song, Shelter Me Lord. With Patti Scialfa as guest vocalist, Shelter is a menacing, bluesy number that rocks. That exception just sort of proves my premise. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings have broadened their catalog with Kings and Queens and you should check them out.
About the author: Support new music. Listen to a band or singer you've never heard of this week. I've been doing that for over 30 years.