Kings and Queens

Blackie & the Rodeo Kings

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Kings and Queens Review

by Mark Deming

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings are a band perfectly willing to wear their enthusiasm on their collective sleeve. After all, the project that brought Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson together and gave them their group name was a tribute to Canadian singer/songwriter Willie P. Bennett, and they've never been hesitant to cover songwriters they look up to or bring in guest artists they admire. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings take this philosophy to heart on their sixth album, Kings and Queens, in which they tip their hats to some of their favorite female vocalists by bringing in a different woman to duet on each of these 14 tracks. The lineup of singers the Rodeo Kings have invited along is stellar, and the trio has done a fine job of matching the songs to the vocalists. Cassandra Wilson's rich and resonant instrument is a perfect complement to the languid tone of "Golden Sorrows," Patti Scialfa's tough, blues-influenced style gives "Shelter Me" an extra layer of attitude, the hard-won compassion of "Step Away" was made to order for the beauty of Emmylou Harris' voice, and Exene Cervenka is tough as nails and all heart on the swaggering "Made of Love." Pam Tillis co-wrote "My Town Has Moved Away" with Linden, as well as performing it here, and it's one of the album's unexpected highlights, a moving elegy to communities run down by changing times. And any album that features a new recording from the reclusive Mary Margaret O'Hara, as well as Rosanne Cash, Sam Phillips, and Amy Helm, is worth the attention of any discriminating music fan, and the Rodeo Kings have given them all solid material to work with and performances that are just as thoughtful and well-executed as their talented guests. (The lone exception is Lucinda Williams, whose vocal on "If I Can't Have You" gets unexpectedly overwhlemed in the mix.) If Kings and Queens is an experiment, it's a successful one that shows this is a roots rock supergroup that plays well with others and treats talented colleagues with all the respect and fine music they deserve.

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