Blackie and The Rodeo Kings celebrate their 20th anniversary with the release of their seventh studio album, Kings & Kings. The improbably named Canadian trio (there is no one named Blackie, and I am unable to verify whether there are any actual rodeo kings) of Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson collaborate with a dozen other Americana artists for a “duets” album. A follow up of sorts to their acclaimed 2011 female duets album, Kings & Queens, Kings & Kings this time features collaborations with male artists. The list of guest stars is impressive and diverse (we’ll get to them later,) yet never upstages the Rodeo Kings. Fearing, Linden and Wilson contribute vocally as well as musically on every track – in addition to writing or co-writing many of the songs.
Of the dozen songs on this album, it’s hard to pick a favorite. Each song shines in its own right, and perfectly expresses its genre and mood. So depending on your mood, you’ll find a new favorite every time you listen. There’s the unabashed Rock & Roll of “Where the River Rolls” and the raucous Honky Tonk of “Playing by Heart” when you find yourself in a party mood. With lyrics like, “I’d give everything I have just to show you another good time. If we’re falling off the edge, we might as well be drunk as we’re flying.” in the latter song, it’s hard not to be in a party mood!
If you find yourself at the other end of the emotional spectrum you can share “This Lonesome Feeling” and “Bury My Heart” in the Country Blues of each of these songs.
There’s the yearning troubadour song, “High Wire,” the lilting, Britticana of “Secret of a Long Lasting Love,” and “A Woman Gets More Beautiful” when you’re feeling amorous.
If you’re in a more contemplative mood, you might like the singer/songwriter narrative of “Land of the Living” or the urban blues of “Bitter and Low.”
When you just want pure, unadulterated Americana, give a listen to “Live by the Song,” and “Beautiful Scars.” Both songs celebrate the dues paying part of a musician’s life. As the former so eloquently states, “You live by the song, you die by the road.” And yet they’re quick to point out, that if we all must die anyway, we may as well live on our own terms.
Finally, there’s the sublime spiritual, “Long Walk to Freedom.” A beautiful song of perseverance and optimism, it reminds us that “A saint is just a sinner who keeps on trying.” It encourages us that a lot of things might have “seemed impossible until it was done.” Earthy acoustic guitars and airy Hammond organ combine to create a comforting musical embrace to both heart and soul.
With so much to choose from on one album, Kings & Kings is a musical royal flush.
As promised above, the guest artists on Kings & Kings are:
Rodney Crowell “Live by the Song”
Eric Church “Bury My Heart”
City & Colour “Beautiful Scars”
Raul Malo “High Wire”
Buddy Miller “Playing by Heart”
Fantastic Negrito “Bitter and Low”
Nick Lowe “Secret of a Long Lasting Love”
Bruce Cockburn “A Woman Gets More Beautiful”
Jason Isbell “Land of the Living”
Keb’ Mo “Long Walk to Freedom”
Vince Gill “This Lonesome Feeling”
The Men of Nashville “Where the River Rolls”