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Travel inspires Kings’ latest, largely acoustic CD


Success takes a lot of toil and planning ­— except for when things just fall into place.

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings reaped much cross-border success and radio play with the 2011 album Kings and Queens.

But it took tons of effort to line up duets for the release with such esteemed — and busy — female singers as Emmylou Harris, Roseanne Cash and Lucinda Williams. “It took us about three years” to get all the guest artists to commit to the project, recalled group member Stephen Fearing. “We had to record some songs, then guess who else was going to be singing on them . . . . ”

The latest Blackie and the Rodeo Kings album, South, came about much quicker and more organically.

Fearing said there was never any pressure to try to measure up to Kings and Queens, since the new release was made informally, outside a recording studio. “We just thought we’d record some songs and covers for fun, then maybe press it onto vinyl as a collector’s item for our hardcore fans.”

But something unexpected happened when the three Blackie singers — Fearing, Tom Wilson and Colin Linden — gathered around a kitchen table and began harmonizing into microphones: a warm and spontaneous vibe emerged.

“We thought, there’s something really special here. ... We need to take this further,” Fearing added.

The group that performs Sunday, Feb. 9, at The Hideout, south of Red Deer, threw out the cover songs that had been slated for the release and reconceived it with original new tunes instead.

Wilson strongly argued that the largely acoustic CD should be called South because the album came together in Nashville. But he later forgot this reasoning and wrote a new song for it called North, said Fearing.

Linden bailed out the original concept by writing the title track — which is why the album contains the songs North and South. They may point in different directions, but both tunes are about travelling, Fearing added.

North was inspired by Wilson’s Mohawk heritage and the regular migration that happens between reserves in Quebec and New York City.

Many Mohawk workers have helped build skyscrapers — everything from the Empire State Building to Freedom Tower. They are called skywalkers, said Fearing, because they have a fearless “head for heights. They feel comfortable walking high above the ground on steel girders.”

Linden wrote the song South about the journey many Canadians make to better weather and greater opportunities in the U.S. Some were expelled from this country, like the Acadians, and others made a personal choice, like becoming snowbirds.

Nova Scotia-based Fearing contributed three tunes: a light, romantic ballad, co-written with Erin Costello, called Try, Try, Try Again; a heavier love song, I’d Have to be Stone (to forget you) co-written with Wilson; and Everything I Am, written for his wife and stepdaughter.

So far, he’s delighted with the critical reaction South is garnering. “It’s been really, really well received.”

But as for whether Blackie and the Rodeo Kings will continue making inroads into the U.S., now that the group has American management and a booking agent, Fearing believes it will depend on more than the sum of one or two albums.

“For us, it’s always been about steadily growing . . . I think people have heard about us and heard about us, and now they’re finally paying attention. So it’s about tending the fire and making a concerted effort. ... When everyone’s pulling in the same direction, it can be pretty potent stuff.”

He’s looking forward to playing some of the new tunes for a Central Alberta audience, saying “With this kind of music, Alberta is the place to be.”

Tickets for the 8 p.m. show, presented by the Central Music Festival Society, are $32 from www.centralmusicfest.com.

lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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