Blackie & the Rodeo Kings

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South Review

by Mark Deming

Blackie & the Rodeo Kings started out as a project in which three singer/songwriters -- Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson -- got together to pay homage to a friend and colleague, and as good as they are together, BARK are a band that cherish their sense of democracy so much that no one ever seems like the leader. As a result, their best recordings have the feel of a casual guitar pull more than a group of heavyweights hatching a grand project, and that's certainly the case with South, the trio's eighth album. "Gotta Stay Young" even leaves in the false starts as the gang briefly stumbles before finding the groove, while a few stray laughs can be heard in "I'm Still Loving You," and much of South sounds like it could have been recorded in a couple afternoons in someone's living room with good microphones and some whiskey on hand for company. And that's a compliment; the loose, spontaneous feel of these sessions serves the songs especially well, while the minimal accompaniment and hands-off production (by Linden) reinforces the sense that this album doesn't put up many barriers between the performers and the listener. And it sure doesn't hurt that these guys brought some solid material to the table, such as Wilson's rough and sweet "Gotta Stay Young," Linden's rough-hewn but evocative "Summertime's Over," and Fearing's fierce and bluesy "Everything I Am." South is simple but strong, an album that succeeds simply by offering fine songs played well by three guys and a few extra friends who sound honest and invested in their music; that may not seem like the state of the art in contemporary music, but it worked many moons ago and remarkably, it still works today.

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