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Swinging from the Chains of Love [Digipak]
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Performer Notes
  • Audio Remasterer: Greg Calbi.
  • Liner Note Author: Rob Bowman.
  • Photographers: Michael Wrycraft; Stephen Fearing.
  • Considering the amount of quality music the ad hoc Canadian singer/songwriter "supergroup" has released under the Blackie & the Rodeo Kings moniker -- five albums, including a double from 1996-2007 -- this 14-song, 55-minute set should have used the extra 20 minutes of its CD playing time to better advantage. The trio -- Colin Linden, Tom Wilson, and Stephen Fearing, all solo artists with well-regarded catalogs of their own -- began life by covering the songs of journeyman Canadian songwriter Willie P. Bennett before expanding into original material. At the very least, the tune that provided the unique name for their outfit could have been included in this recap of highlights. Regardless, this is a solid overview of the threesome's best work, with a few rarities tossed in. It was released at an auspicious time, just after the death of Bennett and veteran keyboardist Richard Bell, and not surprisingly, the album is dedicated to both. The opening "Stoned" was a minor hit and sets the stage nicely with its talk-sung vocals, bluesy feel, and rootsy mentality that recalls Shawn Mullins and quotes Warren Zevon. Although the sound leans toward the less-rocking side of Tom Petty, it's obviously the Band, with its three-pronged vocal attack, that has most inspired BARK. They make that evident both in the extensive liner notes (19 pages) and songs such as a cover of the Band's "The Caves of Jericho" (recorded after Robbie Robertson left) and "Vale of Tears" that shimmers with the dark, swampy undercurrents that informed Bob Dylan's backing outfit's best work. All three BARK singers have a similar, dusky vocal approach even though they don't harmonize as much as you'd expect, preferring to trade leads. Tracks such as "Remedy" chug along with a lazy yet insistent vibe and singalong choruses that make you think it must be because their albums were difficult to obtain in the States that they have such a low profile in America. A tough, ragged cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" that sets the serial killer lyrics to taut, overdriven drums is rescued from an obscure Cash tribute album, and the twangy title track hints at the deep country at the core of BARK's influences. Fearing's "Heaven for a Lonely Man" is a lost gem; its appearance here is a reminder of how talented and underappreciated these guys have been. Perhaps the next 11 years will result in the trio finding the commercial crossover audience that has thus far eluded this classy side project. ~ Hal Horowitz
Professional Reviews
Dirty Linen (p.62) - "Linden's crisp production and the trio's deliciously dirty guitar tones provide the frosting on this delightfully guilty pleasure."
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