Published Jan 13, 2014On this, their eighth album, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings head back to basics. As the liner notes explain, South was originally envisaged as an all-acoustic trio record that'd strongly feature cover songs. That vision mutated with the addition of the regular BARK rhythm section (John Dymond and Gary Craig) and a couple of guest players, but South retains a far more minimalist feel than their previous album, 2011's star-studded Kings and Queens.
This setting again reminds us of the individual strengths of Tom Wilson, Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing as songwriters and singers, while Linden's in-demand skills as a producer and instrumentalist come to the fore again here. They're not afraid to recruit outside writing voices either, with collaborators including Colin James, Erin Costello and Gary Nicholson. Wilson kicks things off strongly with "North," his distinctive vocals meshing sweetly with Linden's fluent playing. That's followed by Linden's title track tune, given depth by the harmonies of Harlan Pepper. Subsequent highlights include two haunting and sweet ballads, "I'd Have To Be A Stone" and "Blow Me A Kiss" (sung by Fearing and Wilson, respectively), and the toe-tapper "Fleur De Lys," written and sung by Wilson and Linden.
Fittingly, South drives off into the sunset with "Driftin Snow," a stirring song by Blackie's musical patron saint, Willie P. Bennett (and the only cover here). The three BARK principals initially came from different worlds (loosely speaking, rocker Wilson, folkie Fearing and bluesman Linden), but such differentiations have become happily blurred after all their work together. While it may lack the sustained ear-catching excellence of Kings and Queens, South is another solid addition to what is now one of the strongest discographies in Canadian roots music. (File Under: Music)