Blackie and the Rodeo Kings-Send In The Queens

Cover June 10, 2011

Story:Lenny Stoute

A Time Zone mix-up has me calling the Man In The Black Fedora an hour early but Colin Linden is all graciousness in putting aside whatever he was into for a talk.

The Southern gentleman thing suits Linden like a well-worn pair of Levis. Not only has he been resident in Nashville going on 14 years but throughout the conversation, Linden heaps praise on all concerned in the making of the band's new album, Kings and Queens. It's not a false humility rather a genuine enthusiasm for making music.

"We still go at it strictly for the love of the song. It's never about what a song can do for us. It's always about how we can best serve the song, show it off at its best."

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings owes its genesis to this core idea. The band formed as a one-of vehicle to record an album, High Or Hurtin', The Songs of Willie P. Bennett, in celebration of the work of this unsung roots music hero. This was in 1996 and 15 years and six albums later, it's still about the songs.

Kings and Queens drops June 14 and threatens to propel the band into the serious spotlight. This lurks in the wings as the album features collaborations with some of the finest female singer/songwriters currently trodding the boards, among them Rosanne Cash, Lucinda Williams, Patti Scialfa, Holly Cole and Serena Ryder.

Rosanne CashRosanne CashMary Margaret O'Hara,Mary Margaret O'Hara,Just having access to the ladies of the album speaks volumes about Linden's status in the roots/country communities on both sides of our border. The fact the idea was formulated in 2006, recording started in 2009 and the album delivered in 2011 is indicative of the love and attention to detail which hallmark all of Linden's production work.

Modest guy that he is, asked about the toughest part of producing the album, Linden avers it was getting the band members all together in the same room, being that the other two, Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson live in Halifax and Hamilton, Canada respectively.
This was crucial to the creative process of this album, as Linden recorded the band's parts, then recorded and dubbed in the vocals. The album's concept is arresting in its simplicity; write a batch of songs on the subject of love and get many of the female singers they've worked with to sing duets on them.

Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing and Tom WilsonColin Linden, Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson"The idea came about at the end of a cross-Canada tour in 2006. I had earlier gone out playing guitar with EmmyLou Harris and we got to talking about all the amazing female artists we've had the privilege to work with. We started writing down names we'd like to work with and eventually the thing began to take hold.

"I liked the idea of collaborations, I think it's good for the band itself. It's in the nature of a collaboration that you come with an 'outer' approach, which is different from the 'inner' way when it's just us".

The 'us' all three share in the playing, writing and lead vocals with an unusual level of interactivity. For Kings and Queens, they set out to write a batch of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings tunes, then try to match them to appropriate female voices.

"We would write a song and then go, Now who would sound good on this? From our experience with the singers, we had a sense of their voices and the arrangements that work for them. We'd then send a file of the song to the singer we wanted and just ask, Can you hear yourself doing this?"

"The whole experience was great, I got to collaborate and hang out with a bunch of smart, intelligent women who are also fun to be around.

"It's good for the band to be able to shift some of the pressure of being the solo voice. We were working towards songs where the point of view could go either way, male or female. We've always had this thing of championing music's unsung heroes. I'm very happy that Exene Cervenka (ex-X) is on the album as I feel she's one of those.

Lucinda WilliamsLucinda Williams"Everyone we approached liked the idea. Patty Scialfa (Springsteen's lady) is an artist whose (3) solo albums I really liked but I'd never met her. I made a cold call to (Bruce) Springsteen's management people, who were extremely courteous and respectful. They promised to pass the request on and very quickly Patty came back to us and said she was interested.

"Professional that she is, she sent us back several entirely different treatments of the song, all arranged and ready to go"

The end result, Kings and Queens, offers 14 musings on this thing called 'love', covering some of the bases you can reach on that trip. From "If I Can't Have You' sung with Lucinda Williams, through 'How Come You Treat Me So Bad', (Janiva Magness) and 'Shelter Me Lord' (Patti Scialfa) and going out with 'Black Sheep' (Serena Ryder), the love which the artists put into their parts comes shining through.

For Linden's part the love meant going from Nashville, Toronto and New York to New Orleans, Los Angeles and Woodstock, wherever the golden voice he needed was to be found.

"I racked up a lot of miles making this album but it was so much fun and never really felt pressured. We're gearing up for the album release party at The Living Room in New York City next Tuesday (Jun.14)."

On that day Canada's CBC Radio2 will devote an entire show to the Kings and Queens.

"At this stage, we like to make every show an event. We change it up every night and while for this tour we'll be playing most of the material from this album, we'll play songs from the other albums, maybe a cover or two. We like people to come away from shows feeling that they genuinely had a good time."

Rounding out the Blackie and the Rodeo Kings touring line-up is their long-time back line of bassist John Dymond and drummer Gary Craig,

"As the tour goes along, whenever we're in a city where one of the 'Queens' on the album live, we'll extend an invite and hope they come onstage with us. For the debut show, Amy Helm (Levon's daughter) who does 'I'm Still Loving You" on the album will appear and there may be last minute surprise guests. We're hoping for that to happen throughout the tour".