Blackie and the Rodeo Kings
“We’re very sensitive men,” notes Tom Wilson, who with longtime compatriots Stephen Fearing and Colin Linden comprises Blackie and the Rodeo Kings’ singer-songwriter-guitarist triumvirate. “And when we’re not sensitive, we’re loud.”
The fabled Canadian roots-rockers are a virtual institution in their home country, where they’ve been crafting bracing, catchy, introspective music for nearly two decades. Yet they’ve managed to maintain a relatively low profile in the United States. That situation seems likely to change with the U.S. release of the band’s eighth album, South, coming out through File Under: Music on January 14, 2014. A limited edited 7” vinyl containing tracks “South” and “North” is due out on October 29, 2013.
South represents a fresh creative step for Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, while embodying the qualities of rootsy musical uplift and quirky lyrical depth that have long distinguished the ensemble’s varied output. The album’s largely acoustic yet reliably punchy arrangements showcase the three songwriters’ multiple strengths, while their organically energetic performances maintain the vibrant chemistry that’s kept Blackie a consistently vital and distinctive musical force.
Fearing, Linden and Wilson were already seasoned veterans of the Canadian music scene when they first forged their collaboration in 1996 in Hamilton, Ontario. The group was initially assembled as a one-off side project to record High or Hurtin’: The Songs of Willie P. Bennett, a tribute to the Canadian folk artist whose 1978 LP Blackie and the Rodeo King inspired the combo’s name.
Despite the original plan, the new unit quickly took on a life of its own, spawning such memorable albums as Kings of Love (1999), which won a Juno Award for Best Roots and Traditional Album,Bark (2003), Let’s Frolic (2006), Let’s Frolic Again (2007), the compilation Swinging From the Chains of Love (2009) and Kings and Queens (2011).
Meanwhile, the three have maintained their individual careers outside of Blackie. Fearing is a widely respected solo artist, and is half of the duo Fearing and White with noted Irish artist Andy White. Wilson has worked solo, as well as leading the bands Junkhouse and Lee Harvey Osmond. Linden, who relocated to Nashville in 1996, has released several solo albums and recently played guitar in Bob Dylan’s touring band. As guitarist, songwriter and/or producer, he’s also worked with the likes of The Band, Ray Bonneville, T-Bone Burnett, Bruce Cockburn, Amos Garrett, Emmylou Harris, Colin James, Keb’ Mo’, Diana Krall, Leon Redbone, Chris Thomas King and Lucinda Williams.
South represents both a consolidation of the qualities that have already endeared Blackie and the Rodeo Kings to fans, and a bold departure from the band’s established sound. The project first began to take shape while the group was touring the Canadian festival circuit in support of its last album Kings and Queens. On several occasions, inclement weather caused Fearing, Linden and Wilson to retreat to the shelter of the merch tent, where they would stage loose acoustic sets. These impromptu performances soon began to take on a sound and groove that was distinct from the five-piece electric sets for which Blackie was already renowned.