Blackie & The Rodeo Kings have been bashing out their brilliant brand of country rock and blues since the late 90s, but despite achieving critical and commercial success in their native Canada the band has largely flown under the radar over here.
Swinging From The Chains Of Love provides an ideal introduction to the work of Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden and Tom Wilson, compiling 14 of the band’s most beloved performances on one disc. And while the UK may not always be open-minded about kick-ass country, I defy any true music lover to not at least be smitten by at least one track on this collection.
For those readers who don’t know much about the band, a little history will not go amiss. Formed in 1995 as a tribute band to Canadian folkster Willie P. Bennett, the trio took their name from a 1978 album by Bennett. Their debut High Or Hurtin’ comprised 14 Bennett covers, one of which surfaces here. White Line (Bennett’s 1969 debut single) sums up all that is great about Blackie & The Rodeo Kings. An effortless folk rock thwack drives the song along, and the vocal interplay between Linden, Wilson and Fearing recalls the best of The Band, with the trio trading lines freely and intuitively.
The Band is a key reference point here, and interestingly it is two latter-day tracks that they choose to cover. Remedy (co-written by Linden with Jim Weider) and The Caves Of Jericho (exclusive to this album) both originally appeared on The Band’s 1993 comeback album Jericho and are rescued from anonymity by Fearing, Linden and Wilson. These were great songs grossly overlooked at the time due to the absence of Robbie Robertson from The Band reunion, and it is to the eternal credit that Blackie And The Rodeo Kings both revive and instil new life into them.
On such an enjoyable album it seems churlish to pick favourites, but the casual fan new to the delights of the Rodeo Kings should check out their covers of Fred Eaglesmith‘s 49 Tons and Janice Powers’ Vale Of Tears.
The band originals should not be overlooked either, with Swinging From The Chains Of Love and Stoned both certifiable classics that meld pub rock and rockabilly to memorable effect. Meanwhile, their sensitive side shines through on the heartfelt If I Catch You Cryin’. All three tracks feature on 2004’s Bark, which interested readers should repair to if they want to hear more of the band.
This compilation draws almost exclusively from the band’s first three albums, with the addition of the aforementioned The Caves Of Jericho and a gritty cover of Johnny Cash‘s Folsom Prison Blues. Only Heaven For A Lonely Man and Sometimes It Comes So Easy (another Bennett cover) make the cut from the brilliant Bearsville sessions that gave birth to Let’s Frolic and Let’s Frolic Again.
Another reason to snap up this compilation is Rob Bowman’s excellent 20-page history of the band included in the package. In reality, it is the music that does the talking. And boy does it talk.