kawarthaNOW brings Blackie and the Rodeo Kings back to Peterborough

Canada's roots-rock supergroup returns to the Market Hall on January 23

Tom Wilson, Colin Linden, and Stephen Fearing are Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (publicity photo)
Tom Wilson, Colin Linden, and Stephen Fearing are Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (publicity photo)

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (BARK) is returning to Peterborough for the second time in 14 months — thanks to kawarthaNOW.

The roots-rock supergroup of Tom Wilson, Colin Linden, and Stephen Fearing will perform once again at the Market Hall on Thursday, January 23rd at 8 p.m.

The band’s previous show at the Market Hall in November 2012 was a standing-room-only sell-out, with kudos from all in attendance. Peterborough is one of the very early stops on the tour for the band’s new album South, which will be released in mid January and is destined to be a new BARK classic.

South is a fresh new creative step for BARK, while still embodying the band’s qualities of rootsy musical uplift and quirky lyrical depth. The album’s largely acoustic yet always punchy arrangements showcase the three songwriters’ multiple strengths, while the musicians’ organically energetic performances maintain the vibrant chemistry that’s kept BARK a vital and distinctive musical force.

“We’re very sensitive men,” Tom says. “And when we’re not sensitive, we’re loud.”

Tom, Stephen, and Colin all had successful musical careers when they first assembled as BARK in 1996 in Hamilton. Their collaboration was a one-off side project to record High or Hurtin’: The Songs of Willie P. Bennett, a tribute album to Peterborough’s own folk legend, whose 1978 LP Blackie and the Rodeo King inspired the band’s name.

But the success of that first album, along with the musical chemistry and camaraderie that formed between the three musicians, led to a string of memorable records: Kings of Love in 1999 (which won a Juno Award for Best Roots and Traditional Album), Bark in 2003, Let’s Frolic in 2006, Let’s Frolic Again in 2007, Swinging from the Chains of Love in 2009, and Kings and Queens in 2011.

Blackie and the Rodeo King's eighth record, South, will be released on January 14, 2014
Blackie and the Rodeo King's eighth record, South, will be released on January 14, 2014

The band’s latest record is both a consolidation of the qualities that have endeared BARK to its fans and a bold departure from the band’s established sound. The project first began to take shape while the group was touring the Canadian festival circuit in support of Kings and Queens. On several occasions, inclement weather caused Stephen, Colin, and Tom to retreat to the shelter of the merch tent, where they would stage loose acoustic sets. These impromptu performances soon began to take on a sound and groove that was distinct from BARK’s usual five-piece electric sets.

The experience of stripping down their sound had such a rejuvenating effect that they decided to capture that vibe on record. They had initially planned to record a low-key all-acoustic vinyl-only release, with one original and one cover from each singer. But when they brought the material to Colin’s studio in Nashville, they found their originals to be more exciting than the covers, and before long they’d accumulated an album’s worth of new original tunes.

Tom, Stephen, and Colin then added the band’s long-time rhythm section of bassist Johnny Dymond and drummer Gary Craig to the sessions, and the material evolved yet again. By the time they were finished recording, the only element of the original plan that remained was the absence of electric guitars. Instead, Colin applied his production prowess to give the songs a vivid sonic depth that enhances the songs’ melodic and emotional resonance.

Titled in honor of the sessions’ Nashville location, South features BARK’s most infectious and expressive batch of compositions to date. Colin’s autobiographical title track reflects poignantly on how he followed in his parents’ footsteps by moving his family from Canada to America. Tom also took a crack at writing a title song for the album, but got turned around and instead penned the rousing album-opener “North.”

The band’s capacity for insightful introspection is demonstrated on Stephen’s affecting tune “Everything I Am” and on the heartbreaking “I’d Have To Be A Stone”, co-written by Stephen and Tom.

The album closes with its only cover, “Drifting Snow” by Willie P. Bennett, taking the band back full circle to its origins.

“Tom named this album South,” Colin explains. “The title was rooted in the idea that he and Stephen had come down to my house in Nashville to record, and the mythology of being Canadian musicians venturing from the cold, cold winters and short nights to the land of plenty — plenty of wine and barbecue.”

“The way we sound when we’re sitting around in Colin’s kitchen and in dressing rooms playing music is how we wanted these songs presented,” Tom adds. “There’s a different musical conversation that takes place when you’re stripped to the wood and skins and strings, with the comfort and confidence of the moment when the world stops outside your kitchen window.”

If Colin, Stephen, and Tom have learned anything in the past 17 years, it’s that BARK has been a journey and not a destination. Their original plan to make one album and then go their separate ways has given way to an enduring musical rapport that’s grown deeper — and more integral to their lives — than they could have ever imagined.

“Blackie is there because we want it there, and when we don’t want it there it will be gone,” Tom says. “Blackie enhances our lives, and gives us the kick in the ass that we need to rave on. And sometimes dinner gets burned, so it’s good to have three great cooks watching the oven.”

Colin observes that, despite being a stylistic departure, South is as good a place as any for new converts to discover Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.

“Each of our records has its own character, but we’re unable to be anything other than what we are,” he observes. “So they’re all good intros to us, for better or worse.”

“South” from the new record South

“I’m Still Loving You” from Kings & Queens

“White Line” from High or Hurtin’ (recorded at Market Hall in Peterborough, November 2012)

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Jeannine Taylor
Jeannine Taylor is the CEO, founder, and publisher of kawarthaNOW.com and a contributing writer. She's a self-professed geek and early adopter. Jeannine has over 30 years of experience in marketing, media and communications, and web development. She has been a digital media publisher for over 25 years since kawarthaNOW.com was launched online as Quid Novis in 1996. Her awards include Peterborough's Business Woman of the Year in 2005, a Premier's Award nominee in 2003, and a City of Peterborough Civic Award for chairing the development of Millennium Park. She's also a vegetarian, music lover and, cultural enthusiast. Jeannine would rather be at the cottage kayaking or hanging out with @caitthebordercollie. You can follow her on Instagram @wired_woman or on Twitter @wiredwoman.