Let's Frolic

Blackie & the Rodeo Kings

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Let's Frolic Review

by Hal Horowitz

Canadian singer/songwriter/guitarists Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson all have successful solo careers, but sporadically put their individual projects on hold to record under the Blackie moniker. This album, the occasional band's fourth, comes only a few years following 2004's Bark, yet finds the trio -- backed by a quartet of similarly talented musicians on bass, drums, and keyboards -- in terrific form. The singers harmonize in a gruff, earthy way that is tailored to the similarly styled music. They also swap lead vocals, often in the same song. It really feels like a collaborative effort, as all three contribute material and also write together. Each of these 14 tunes stays in a rootsy folk/country mode with lovely melodies and strumming guitars. But because each member has a distinctive voice and slightly different songwriting approach, the disc never feels repetitious or overlong, despite its hour-plus playing time. The Fearing/Wilson co-write of "Loving Cup" seems like a lost Grateful Dead gem, while the following "I Give it Up Everyday" finds a midtempo Memphis soul groove, complete with a modified horn section, that wouldn't be out of place on an old Stax release. The songs benefit from a low-key introspective approach that allows each track a chance to unwind at its own pace. Perhaps a few more upbeat numbers like Wilson's Tom Petty-styled "That's What I Like," the psychedelic garage-tinged "Buried in Your Heart," and the closing Stones-influenced "Into the Grey" would help the album's commercial prospects, but you get the feeling that is of little importance to these musicians. Rather, they are content to ride an atmospheric vibe aided by guest Daniel Lanois on pedal steel for the heartbreaking "Crown of Thorns." Lanois also contributes his song "House of Sand," one of the disc's most passionate ballads, sung with impeccable tenderness by Wilson. Pam Tillis adds "heavenly harmonies," as the liner notes describe them, on the summer heat of "The Fool Who Can't Forget," a melancholy reminiscence of a long-gone relationship with brushed drums and poignant organ adding colors to the strummed guitar and piano. The singers trade verses on the stripped-down blues-boogie of Linden's "Life Is Golden," one of the set's most raw and rocking chuggers, where all three contribute electric guitar. A second set from these sessions, Let's Frolic Again, was scheduled for 2007 release. With an album as captivating as the somewhat misleadingly titled Let's Frolic, they should consider making this a full-time gig.

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