The Canadian trio known as Blackie and the Rodeo Kings -- there is no Blackie and they don't do rodeos -- came together from various bands to perform a one-off tribute disc of material by singer-songwriter Willie P. Bennett. That was 1995, but the Kings can't quit. Tuesday night the three guitarists (no drums, no bass) blew off what woefully few socks were in attendance at Iota during a set of originals and heavily altered covers.
Colin Linden, a blues slide-guitar specialist who plays a Dobro like a Telecaster; Stephen Fearing, the folkie who provides a dependable center for the trio; and Tom Wilson, the bass-singing rocker with an attractive broodiness, packed the room with a dense sound that blended the rawest elements of their individual expertise.
The vocal and instrumental interplay on "Swinging From the Chains of Love" and "Jackie Washington" were tight and tuneful, with catchy hooks seeming to spring up at every chord change. Their version of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" eschewed just about all the trademarks of the familiar melody, replacing them with gutbucket Delta blues.
Cowboy singer-songwriter Dennis Jay opened the night with an elegant and tasteful solo outing, away from his compadres in the band Lonesome Town. His top guitar strings kept a galloping rhythm as he fingerpicked melodies that combined the virtues of Gene Autry and Marty Robbins; his lyrics never failed to depict a place, set a mood and tell a compelling story. It was a captivating performance. Jay, probably the only singing-cowboy/gravedigger in Washington, is as good as any western songwriter in the business.
-- Buzz McClain