Wed, Jan 8, 2014.
In the liner notes to the new Blackie & the Rodeo Kings album, called South, member Stephen Fearing says in his personal section, thanks to "all my pals in Halifax, for welcoming me into the fold." That alone tells you that Fearing is now happily settled into the East Coast music scene, and has been a welcome addition. Fearing's had a long and successful career in the Canadian folk scene, a multiple Juno winner on his own, and for the past while a member of the roots power trio Blackie, along with Colin Linden and Tom Wilson. Family reasons brought him to Halifax five years back, and he's really enjoyed making it his home base. Touring and recording keep him on the road much of the year, but when he's back, he certainly has joined in the music community, writing songs with others there, performing and being seen around town in the audience supporting local folks.
As well as continuing with his own records, Fearing's been plenty busy with Blackie, the band that keeps on giving. Formed initially to do a tribute record to the songwriting of Willie P. Bennett, that was seven albums ago, and they keep re-inventing themselves every time they get together. Last time out, it was the Kings and Queens album and tour, which saw them team up with a bunch of their favourite female singers, including Rosanne Cash, Serena Ryder and Emmylou Harris. That all went nicely, and when they were out on the road, a surprise happened. On the festival circuit, you can be at the mercy of the weather. And in some rainy spots, the trio would sometimes get some shelter with the rest of the fans in the merchandise tent. There they would have some fun and play acoustically for folks, just the three with unamplified guitars. They'd do some of their own stuff, and some fun cover versions too. That gave them the idea to recapture that spirit on disc.
So off they went to Colin Linden's studio, down in Nashville, where he does cool things like work on film soundtracks with producer T-Bone Burnett. The plan was to do a vinyl-only album for fans at shows, with some favourite covers and some old originals, all done as acoustic numbers. But wouldn't you know, songwriters that they all are, they arrived with new material too. Recording started, and they were all very happy with the new tracks. So much so, that they changed the original plan, dumped the covers, and went with all new stuff. Plus they brought in their regular band, John Dymond on bass and Gary Craig on drums.
They did keep one important part of the initial idea though; it's still a mostly acoustic disc, no electric guitars at all, no keyboards, or big effects. For add-ons, Linden plays dobro and mandolin to sweeten things, but the acoustic vibe is the main sound throughout. The trio get into some strong group vocals, and prove you can rock without amplifiers. They were right about the songs, too. These are some of the catchiest numbers they've come up with, including Wilson's North, a train song that ends up in Canada fuelled by Linden's dobro licks, Linden's own Reinventing The Wheel Of Love, with a Spanish feel, and Fearing's new Try Try Try Again. That song is one of several that Fearing has co-written over the past couple of years with another Nova Scotia favourite, Erin Costelo. The soul singer contributed three numbers on Fearing's solo album last year, Between Hurricanes, and he's obviously pleased with the talent he's finding on the East Coast, returning to that partnership again.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).