Blackie & the Rodeo Kings
by Kate Conner-Ruben
Maybe if I ever do something really important, a trio of esteemed Canadian singer-songwriters will record an album in my honor. And that tribute album will be riotously successful and make me famous and them too, of course and will launch all sorts of tours and impressive ventures. And then they'll kind of disband, but then miraculously re-form every few years to record more albums, which aren't exactly tributes to me anymore that would be excessive but ride on the fun and success of the first album.
Unlikely, but it could happen. In fact, it's the story behind Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, the brainchild of Canadian singer-songwriters Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson (of the band Junkhouse). Sometime in the mid-1990s, all three discovered they'd had the same idea: an album devoted to the superb artistry of the legendary Willie P. Bennett, one of Canada's untapped treasures. Bennett, of course, was partial to the idea. A band was formed, named for one of Bennett's own songs, and an all-Bennett album recorded, High or Hurtin', which promptly scored a Juno Award nomination and garnered Bennett who regularly tours 200 dates a year as the mandolin player for Fred Eaglesmith some proper renown.
Blackie & the Rodeo Kings exists alongside Fearing's, Linden's, and Wilson's solo careers. Their newest release, Bark, came out this summer, and they're touring hard in support of the album. The disc itself sports a childish drawing of a dog smoking a doobie. Pop it in the player and sit back for fourteen songs that play and growl and frolic like a happy pack prowling the neighborhood for the first time in months. Everyone shares songwriting duties, and there are plenty of guests too. Things kick off with "Swinging from the Chains of Love," a country stomper that, as I have found, is not safe to play while driving south on I-75. Track 4, titled simply "Stoned," is a spoken/sung reverie with a funky beat and spooky, dense guitars. My favorite could be Fearing's sad and wistful "Born to Be a Traveler." My thrash-folk favorite is guest writer Bruce Cockburn's "Tie Me at the Crossroads When I Die."
But other people's favorites don't mean much. Good, interesting, compelling songs abound here. You can check them out yourself when Blackie & the Rodeo Kings play the Ark on Thursday, September 9.
[Originally published in September, 2004.]