Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Fans have been waiting for this for a long time.  That's because the band took a couple of years to get it together, and was updating people on the project on-line as it progressed.  The concept is that our heroes, Wilson, Fearing and Linden, the Kings, team up with a different Queen for a duet on each song.  The Kings, three accomplished songwriters, came up with the material, and producer Linden went off to studios all over North America to round up the duet partners.  Thankfully, Linden has a pretty intense address book on his smart phone, thanks to his association with producer T-Bone Burnett, and his great reputation in the studio.  And the whole group has made lots of good friends over their careers.

So the guest list is stellar:  Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Lucinda Williams and Patti Scialfa would be the A-listers, but you'll notice class and talent means more than star power. Fellow Canadians feature heavily, with Mary Margaret O'Hara, Serena Ryder and Holly Cole inspired choices.  In fact, every singer is an interesting one, from divas (jazz great Cassandra Wilson) to eccentrics (X vocalist Exene Cervenka). 

Since BARK provides the original songs, the disc is a roots fan's delight, from hard-edged folk to folk-based blues.  All three Blackie singers have strong individual styles, as do their guests, so a lot of care had to go into matching vocal partners to particular songs.  And since none of these women are over-singers, they treat the material with respect instead of being there to show off.  Most of these duets projects that come out are full of over-the-top performers, or have productions aimed at grabbing your attention.  This is much more thoughtful collection, certainly more artistic, with no campy guest slots. 

So it isn't the best vocal performances that make the difference, since they are all fine to great, it's the best-written songs that stay with you.  Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins teams up with Stephen Fearing on the abuse-busting Another Free Woman, one of those driving numbers with memorable choruses that Fearing excels at.  Colin Linden always manages fun numbers, and his Got You Covered with Rosanne Cash is the toe-tapper of the set.  New blues belter Janiva Magness matches pipes with Tom Wilson on How Come You Treat Me So Bad, a number that Mick Jagger and Tina Turner would've done in a perfect world. 

Other highlights include the soft and Lanois-inspired Step Away by Emmylou and Linden, and Fearing's match-up with Cassandra Wilson on the sad story Golden Sorrows.  Really, there's something to be said for every song, and no clunkers.  Best of all, the disc never feels like a marketing ploy, but instead, it's a good idea that worked out very well.

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