REVIEW: Blackie and The Rodeo Kings – ‘Kings and Kings’ (Compilation)

Two weeks into the new year and we have an album release that may just be one of the highlights of 2017. Canadian band Blackie and The Rodeo Kings have revisited a format that was used so successfully in 2011 when they released ‘Kings And Queens’, a collection of songs that featured female singers such as Emmylou Harris, Pam Tillis, Lucinda Williams and Rosanne Cash.

6 years on they have enlisted the assistance of the guys and this album includes the collective talents of Eric Church, Jason Isbell, Vince Gill, Buddy Miller and Raul Malo. It’s an interesting concept and one that hugely defines the respect that the Nashville power players have for Tom Wilson, Stephen Fearing and Colin Linden who formed the band in Hamilton, Ontario in 1996.

The band members have always split their time on other projects. Linden is the technical supervisor on the ‘Nashville’ TV show and has numerous solo releases. Blackie And The Rodeo Kings have never regularly worked together but their collaboration has now produced 9 albums. The inclusion of artists who have attained huge success will increase the profile but there is little point in attracting the likes of Eric Church or Vince Gill to your project if the material they perform isn’t up to scratch. Dave Cobb’s ‘Southern Family’ was applauded not only because of the variety and diversity of the performers, but also because they were asked to sing great songs.

‘Kings And Kings’ differs in that the band always contribute within the recordings but the songs are similarly strong. This is an album that will draw you back to revisit the songs rather than the voices and ultimately that’s how it should be.

Rodney Crowell joins the band to start proceedings in ‘Live By The Song’ which is a touring band’s anthem. The vocal duties are shared but throughout the album the roles of each individual guest can vary between ‘full’ and ‘featuring’. The band members take an instrumental role in some but are more full on in others.

The inclusion of Eric Church will mean that this compilation receives more attention than otherwise. ‘Bury My Heart’ is a rock-based ballad with Eric adding star appeal. His star has never been higher and it’s good to see that he is willing to spread some of that dust onto this excellent collaboration.

Not all the guests have that degree of royal appeal but that never detracts for the quality. ‘Beautiful Scars’ features Dallas Green of City And Colour and is one of the highlights of the album. It’s dark and very melodramatic and has a hook that lingers.

The diversity of the material on offer makes for an interesting listening experience. Pigeonholing modern country is becoming a difficult task. Pigeonholing modern Americana is impossible.

Raul Malo’s inclusion on ‘High Wire’ provides us with further proof that his voice is one of the richest and smoothest in the business. It’s a Latin-tinged song as you would expect from the Mavericks front man and adds to the musical rainbow that is offered by ‘Kings And Kings’.

Nick Lowe sings lead on ‘Secret Of A Long Lasting Love’ with the band singing backing and there are English/French vocals on the Bruce Cockburn duet ‘A Woman Gets More Beautiful’. The quality never lets up throughout.

Vince Gill is a top drawer addition and his contribution isn’t wasted on ‘This Lonesome Feeling’ which is pure country and will delight Gill’s legion of fans.

The album closes with men of ‘Nashville’ performing ‘Where The River Rolls’.

This is an album that demonstrates the huge variety that exists these days in the music that we love. A collection of individuals coming together to create their own brand of country/americana can only work if the conductors can provide the backdrop to make great songs, and this is to the credit of the guys that form Blackie And The Rodeo Kings. They may be a name that you will be unfamiliar but don’t let that put you off. We don’t often get to hear a collective array of vocalists on an album and we certainly don’t often get to hear a collection as good as this.

1. “Live by the Song” – featuring Rodney Crowell
2. “Bury My Heart” – featuring Eric Church
3. “Beautiful Scars” – featuring City and Colour
4. “High Wire” – featuring Raul Malo
5. “Playing by Heart” – featuring Buddy Miller
6. “Bitter and Low” – featuring Fantastic Negrito
7. “Secret of a Long Lasting Love” – featuring Nick Lowe
8. “A Woman Gets More Beautiful” – featuring Bruce Cockburn
9. “Land of the Living (Hamilton Ontario 2016)” – featuring Jason Isbell
10. “Long Walk to Freedom” – featuring Keb Mo
11. “This Lonesome Feeling” – featuring Vince Gill
12. “Where the River Rolls” – featuring “The Men of Nashville”