While maintaining individual careers, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings - Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing, and Tom Wilson - come together every few years and their latest enterprise may be their most ambitious - create an album pairing three heart-worn troubadours with queens of Americana.
Lucinda Williams starts things off harmonizing on the rueful blues of If I Can't Have You, one of several places where Wilson takes the lead. Another highlight was Rosanne Cash sharing Got You Covered with Linden. Hearing Emmylou Harris sing Willie P. Bennett's Step Away is particularly poignant.
The album's surprise may be the powerful performance soulfully laid out by Patti Scialfa on Buddy and Julie Miller's Shelter Me. One of only two non-originals, the track is provided extra texture through Scialfa's intensity. As wonderful is the depth that Sara Watkins brings to Another Free Woman.
Youthful Serena Ryder shows her mettle with a rendition of Fearing's Black Sheep that should linger in listeners' consciousness long after the album ends. Holly Cole and Mary Margaret O'Hara also contribute to great effect.
As far-reaching as "Kings & Queens" is, producer Linden and his cohorts never lose perspective. While the album is about the ladies, these contributions bring even greater focus to the guys' singing: this ability to maintain balance within what could have been an unwieldy banquet of talent is perhaps Blackie & the Rodeo Kings' greatest accomplishment.