Album Review – Blackie and the Rodeo Kings Bring Together Best Americana Male Artists on ‘Kings and Kings’

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What began as a tribute to Canadian songwriter Willie P. Bennett, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings have spent the past 20 years growing into one of Canada’s best roots music bands. Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing, and Tom Wilson, all with their own solo musical careers, have together developed Blackie and the Rodeo Kings into more than just a one-off tribute group. In 2011, the group collaborated with many of Americana and country’s finest female artists like Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, and Pam Tillis in Kings and Queens. Now five and a half years later, the group returns with Kings and Kings, a collaboration album with country and Americana’s best male singers, including Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, Jason Isbell, Eric Church and many others.

Kings and Kings takes the best of each member and guest, which makes for an eclectic sound throughout. Written by all three members of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, and joined by the great Rodney Crowell, “Live by the Song” details the life of the band on the road and playing music. Fearing and Crowell split the vocals, and Crowell’s seasoned voice shines through; a perfect collaboration choice given the song’s content. Not all songs are vocal collaborations, with guest Nick Lowe taking full lead on “Secret of a Long Lasting Love” while the band harmonizes behind him. With Bruce Cockburn, Linden (who has produced many of Cockburn’s albums) not only splits verses with him on the tender “A Woman Gets More Beautiful,” but the pair move between English and French lyrics, adding a layer of romance onto the ballad.

Many guests bring their native band’s flair to their collaborations with the Canadian trio. Buddy Miller, who’s played guitar for many Country and American stalwarts, joins in on the rollicking “Playing By Heart.” Raul Malo brings a taste of The Mavericks’ signature Latin-inspired sound on Fearing’s “High Wire.” Jason Isbell (on “Land of the Living [Hamilton Ontario 2016]”) and Eric Church (on “Bury My Heart”) stay true to each of their respective rock oriented sounds, while the Willie P. Burnett penned “This Lonesome Feeling” sounds like a classic country standard, which is appropriate given the inclusion of Vince Gill on vocals. Keb Mo duets with Fearing on “Long Walk to Freedom”, a track that reminds the listener of a gospel song. The haunting “Bitter and Low” is benefited from a great vocals from Oakland’s Fantastic Negrito, while Dallas Green of City and Colour turns in a memorable performance on “Beautiful Scars.” Kings and Kings comes to a close with the men of the show Nashville on “Where the River Rolls.”

Overall, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings make the most of their talented guests, playing to each of their respective strengths and sounds, to create an authentic sounding roots album. Kings and Kings is the perfect example of why Americana is such a tough genre to define because a variety of sounds and styles all work under that umbrella. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings provide music fans with an album that epitomizes the genre, with great collaborations from the most respected singers of country and Americana music.

Grade: 9/10

Recommend? – Absolutely!

Album Highlights: Playing By Heart (feat. Buddy Miller), Long Walk to Freedom (feat. Keb Mo), This Lonesome Feeling (feat. Vince Gill), Bury My Heart (feat. Eric Church)

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: None

Whitney Rose Signs With Six Shooter Records

Whitney Rose

Whitney Rose was one of the most critically acclaimed breakout country artists of 2015. Now to start 2016, Rose is poised to continue rising even higher. Six Shooter Records has announced they have signed the Canadian country artist to their label, based out of Toronto and Nashville. The 2015 Country Perspective Female Artist of the Year joins a label that is slowly but surely gaining a foothold in country/roots music, as it’s also the home of another critically acclaimed country artist that broke out in 2015, Sam Outlaw. Other notable acts on the label include Whitehorse and Tanya Tagaq. Six Shooter Records is distributed by Universal Music in Canada and by Thirty Tigers in the United States.

As I mentioned above, Rose really rose to prominence last year with the release of her sophomore album Heartbreaker of the Year. Produced by well-known frontman of The Mavericks, Raul Malo, Rose combined traditional country with old school pop music to create one of the most unique sounding country albums of the year. It received plenty of critical buzz, from AXS to AllMusic to Saving Country Music. We at Country Perspective were impressed by this album too, as it was a Country Perspective Album of the Year finalist and won our Female Artist of the Year award.

Rose took to Instagram to thank the people who made this possible for her and expressed much excitement about her future ahead:

So it looks we might possibly get her third album later this year, which is great news to hear. It seems more and more talented traditionally-based country artists are getting noticed and signed by labels. This is all part of the slow, but steady gain of traditional country music in the genre. Don’t be surprised if more of these type of signings continue to happen throughout 2016. It’s great to see a talented artist like Whitney Rose get recognized and signed onto an up and coming label that will take her to new heights. And hopefully Raul Malo will continue to work with her too, as I think they make a great pairing. This is just another reminder of all the potentially great music that could be released this year. It’s truly an exciting time for fans of country music.

Country Perspective’s 2015 Female Artist of the Year

In 2015 one of the major topics of the year was the infamous Tomato Gate. It brought a lot of attention to the ongoing issue of female country artists not getting a fair shake on country radio. While there were a few tongue in cheek comments and a few angry tweets, the female artist of mainstream country music really didn’t do anything about it and that left me disappointed. This left the field wide open for Country Perspective’s 2015 Female Artist of the Year and gave more unknown names a shot at winning. For Derek and myself it ultimately came down to the music. We asked ourselves who pushed the boundaries the most and brought something new to the table we haven’t heard before. Two artists’ fans rallied behind them and flooded our nominees post with numerous votes of support, but we could only choose one to win. The winner of Country Perspective’s 2015 Female Artist of the Year is Whitney Rose.

Whitney Rose

As I said above it came down to the music for us and who pushed the boundaries the most with it. Whitney Rose’s album Heartbreaker of the Year clearly did this better than the other nominees’ albums. Teamed up with producer Raul Malo, Rose did something with this album I don’t say very much after hearing an album and that is “I didn’t expect this at all.” This album is clearly rooted in traditional country and even country and western. It’s palpable throughout the album. But then the influence of Raul Malo starts to shine through. There’s influences of retro pop, Motown, gospel, jazz and blues. Anyone who has ever heard an album from The Mavericks knows how much they love to blend genres. It doesn’t work for every artist, but for Rose it fits perfectly. And what’s brilliant about listening to Heartbreaker of the Year is not knowing what you’re going to hear next.

You start off with “Little Piece of You,” which undoubtedly has a Motown influence laced with traditional country. Then you have an upbeat, western-style song like “My First Rodeo” and a stirring love ballad like “The Last Party.” The Motown sound returns with “Only Just a Dream” and then this is followed by the album’s title track, which is arguably the best on the record. Mixing vintage pop with traditional country, it tells a gripping story about an intriguing man who has caught Rose’s eye. But what really makes this song shine is Rose’s voice, which is at it’s best on this song. Raul Malo joins Rose on multiple songs on this album, but it’s his duet with Rose on the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” where you really hear him. Their voices are like warm butter and together they’re a dream pairing. Malo is one of the best voices in country music and Rose is well on her way to joining him. If they made an entire album of duets, I would buy it in a heart beat.

Rose shows her fun side on the quirky “The Devil Borrowed My Boots,” “Ain’t It Wise” is another song that sounds like it was straight out of the 50s and “Lasso” is one of the most pure country songs on Heartbreaker of the Year. It’s the final song on this album though that shows how fearlessness of Rose. She covers the famous Hank Williams’ song “There’s a Tear in My Beer” and does it admirably. Covering Hank is daunting enough. Rose chooses to not only cover Hank, but close her album with it. The final song on an album is pretty important, as it’s the last thing the listener hears and is the final impression. This was a big risk by Rose and it ends up paying off beautifully.

This is only the second album Whitney Rose has ever released and already I can tell her future is bright. She has the potential to make stunning and memorable music for many years to come. I think I can speak for many in saying that I look forward to what comes next for this Canadian country artist. This is only just the start for her. The best is yet to come for Whitney Rose.

Sturgill Simpson Wins Song of the Year & Artist of the Year at 2015 Americana Awards

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The 2015 Americana Awards show was absolutely fantastic. There were many great performances throughout the night and if you follow me on Twitter you got to see all my thoughts on them. If you missed this, go scroll through my timeline on the side of the blog. The big winner of the night in terms of awards was Sturgill Simpson. He won the 2015 Americana Song of the Year award for “Turtles All The Way Down” and won the 2015 American Artist of the Year award. Simpson just missed out on sweeping the big three awards, as Lucinda Williams won the 2015 Americana Album of the Year award. Simpson was not at the show, as he was playing a concert in Virginia. Dave Cobb accepted the awards on his behalf, as Cobb was the producer of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.

Other awards handed out:

  • 2015 Americana Emerging Artist of the Year – Shakey Graves
  • 2015 Americana Duo/Group of the Year – The Mavericks
  • 2015 Americana Instrumentalist of the Year – John Leventhal

Noteworthy Moments:

  • Keb Mo delivered a beautiful tribute to the legend B.B. King
  • Rhiannon Giddens delivered the performance of the night
  • Raul Malo said “Holy shit…we won something” when The Mavericks won
  • Houndmouth and The Lone Bellow delivered great performances
  • MC Jim Lauderdale was fantastic and entertaining
  • Too many awesome moments to count!

Be sure to weigh in with your thoughts on the show and performances below.

Update:

Sturgill left a message on his Facebook page regarding his thoughts on winning Song of the Year and Artist of the Year and why he wasn’t able to attend the show. A classy post!

Derek’s Top Ten Country & Americana Songs – August 2015

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August was a quietly great month for new Country and Americana music! Maybe it was just due to the fact that I didn’t know many of the albums were going to be released, except for the highly anticipated Lindi Ortega and Maddie & Tae albums. Either way, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of music released across the board this month, from Americana, to mainstream country, to Texas country, and even Canada! August also featured two albums that jumped toward the top of my favorite list as soon as I heard them. But without further ado, here are my favorite songs released over the past month:

  1. Be My Baby” – Whitney Rose (feat. Raul Malo): This song has it all. A beautiful production and two dynamic voices coming together to give a new twist on a classic song. I was a little hesitant to include a cover as my top song, but Whitney Rose and Raul Malo simply blow this track out of the water. It’s too damn good to ignore on this list.  
  2. “Someday Soon” – Lindi Ortega: This was my number one song until Rose’s album came out. The writing of how Ortega will pick herself up out of a bad relationship is great storytelling, and her vocal delivery is perfect match to it. The way the song builds over the 3 and a half minutes is a testament to Cobb’s production on this blues-inspired track.
  3. “Day One” – Pat Green: Pat Green’s Home was a rather average album overall, but “Day One” was one of the few songs that stood out as a great country song. (“While I Was Away” had been out as a single prior to the album release, so I’m not counting it here). The vocal delivery and production aren’t much to write home about, but they’re both clean and set a nice tone for the song. However, it’s the writing that helps “Day One” stand out. Green tells a story of how he plans to get over the break-up, but those plans will only work if he can make it through the painful first day without his love.
  4. “Let It Out” – Jonathan Tyler: This song was the definite standout on Holy Smokes. Tyler’s vocals are excellent on this track and songwriting on the topic is top-notch.  As Josh said in his review,The steel guitars throughout the song really help create a desperado state of mind in the listener, which fits perfectly with the theme of the song. Everything in this song simply works together well to make a great song.
  5. “Heartbreaker of the Year” – Whitney Rose: I love the simple production of this song. The guitar and bass line combined with the snaps are enough to catch your ear, but they also allow Rose’s haunting voice to shine and carry this track. “Heartbreaker of the Year” is a captivating song all around, and a highlight from the album of the same name.
  6. “Ashes” – Lindi Ortega: The opening song on Ortega’s Faded Gloryville is simply a great song. The poignant lyrics of not wanting to be forgotten by a love sting you and Ortega’s voice adds a whole new layer to that poignancy. The song builds and falls to a gentle conclusion perfectly. “Ashes” takes you on a journey and Ortega leads that journey wonderfully.
  7. “Go Down Slow” – The Statesboro Revue A heavy country song about a blue collar worker who’s long days and weeks leave him feeling burnt out. Singer Stewart Mann sings of his desire to feel anything but numb, and pleads for the booze to go down slow in order to feel the pain. It’s a powerful vocal performance aided by great country instrumentation.
  8. “Shut Up And Fish” – Maddie & Tae: What’s not to love about this song? Witty lyrics that don’t sound immature, excellent sassy vocals that compliment said lyrics, and a beautifully up tempo country production to boot. Start Here may be the best mainstream country album this year, and “Shut Up And Fish” is a great example of Maddie & Tae bringing fun into mainstream country music without losing any class or originality.
  9. “Undone” – The Statesboro Revue: The Statesboro Revue’s new album, Jukehouse Revival is an excellent Americana album with great country sounds. This blue-collar song about letting a load off after long work days is a great anthem to those who selflessly work to the bone because it’s necessary. The banjo plucks that lead the production are fantastic.
  10. “Everything Was Cool in 2002” – Jonathan Tyler: This psychedelic rock track isn’t necessarily country, I know. This closer on Tyler’s excellent Americana album is an awesome song though. Tyler creates a dreamy, airy atmosphere in a song where he reminisces of a past love. But the best part of this song is the awesome musical solos closing out the song and the album. The production quickly builds from the low-tempo to the up-tempo solo, but it fits and sounds excellent.

Honorable Mentions

  • “Half Moon” and “I Ain’t The Girl” by Lindi Ortega
  • “May the Good Times Never End” by Pat Green (feat. Delbert McClinton and Lee Roy Parnell)
  • “Smoke Break” by Carrie Underwood
  • “Complicated” by Kip Moore
  • “There’s a Tear in My Beer” by Whitney Rose
  • “After The Storm Blows Through” by Maddie & Tae