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Blackie and the Rodeo Kings

Kings and Kings – 2017 (File Under Music)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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Five years ago, Canadian country rockers Blackie and the Rodeo Kings released "Kings and Queens," a well-received set made with some of Americana's finest female voices. They return with the companion volume "Kings and Kings."

Colin Linden (the blues component,) Tom Wilson (the rock element,) and Stephen Fearing (the folkie) have recorded more than 30 albums individually in addition to a previous eight as BARK. Veterans by any measure, as artists and producers they have been nominated for and received numerous Juno Awards as well as a Grammy, and Linden appeared regularly on T. Bone Burnett projects as well as the television program "Nashville."

BARK was conceived in tribute to Canadian musician and sideman Willie P. Bennett, and Vince Gill does the honors on this album lending harmony to Bennett's "This Lonesome Feeling," a slice of lonesome country. Contemporary artist Eric Church shares the lead with Wilson on "Bury My Heart," while Raul Malo is featured with Fearing on "High Wire."

Dallas Green (City and Colour) brings a plaintive tone to Wilson's recent composition "Beautiful Scars," a slide-rich, meditative blues. The group's "Nashville" connection is brought to life on a spirited and free-wheeling, guitar-pull rendition of "Where the River Rolls" featuring Charles Esten (Deacon,) Jonathan Jackson (Avery,) Sam Palladio (Gunnar) and Chris Carmack (Will.)

A band autobiography serves as the lead track "Live By the Song," a paean to road warriors, with Fearing joined by Rodney Crowell. Additional highlights are Jason Isbell dropping in for "Land of the Living (Hamilton Ontario 2016)" and Nick Lowe appearing on "Secret to a Long Lasting Love." Fantastic Negrito, Bruce Cockburn, Buddy Miller and Keb' Mo' are also featured.

With mainstream country gloss balanced by decades of stage-honed credibility, "Kings and Kings" is the rare 'guests' recording that sounds completely unified and balanced. With a consistent and lively approach to country-based sounds, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings have delivered a recording that not only captures the groups' collective vision and energy but magnifies the members' - and their collaborators - individual talents.