The definition of a rebel is someone who goes against the grain. For close to thirty years now, Blue Rodeo has taken the road less travelled – and succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations. The band emerged in the early 80’s as a countrified rock band in the era of hair metal and glossy pop. Despite sticking out like a sore thumb (or maybe because of it), their single “Try” became omni-present on radio across Canada and set in motion a three decade long career of headlining every club, theatre and arena in Canada. In 1993, when grunge rock was squeezing commercial rock off the radio, they recorded their most acoustic album, Five Days In July, and scored their biggest hit selling over a half million copies of that one record alone.
Now, with their 14th Warner Music Canada studio album – 1000 Arms, Blue Rodeo’s successes are measured in terms that include induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (2012), receiving a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award (2014) and acknowledgement that the band has steadfastly defined itself by its own terms, and in the years that ensued, sold in excess of four million records.
Reflecting back on three decades of successes and those early Blue Rodeo days, both Jim and Greg are able to fully appreciate where the band sits in the pantheon of music. “Success seemed really real when we were entertaining people at The Horseshoe. That was the top of the heap for us,” Cuddy says. “When you look back, you realize that it has just been this beautiful dream.”
When fans lined Toronto’s Queen Street to get into clubs where Blue Rodeo was performing in the mid-1980s, the band felt as though they had achieved success. And, in fact, they had. But that success has grown exponentially through the ensuing three decades since they formed, and by staying authentic and true to themselves, Canada continues its enduring love affair with Blue Rodeo.
Welcome to 1000 Arms.
“This record has a lot more energy; a bit more up-tempo,” says Greg Keelor, who, along with Jim Cuddy, leads Blue Rodeo. “Jim and I are singing a lot together, and it turned out really great.”
Much of the credit for the sound of 1000 Arms can be attributed to recording in the comfort of the band’s home studio, The Woodshed, with co-producer Tim Vesely.
“Tim had been listening to all the old records, and said, ‘You guys have to sing more together.’ We were surprised. ‘Don’t we do that?’ But we realized that because we did that so naturally, which was a basic characteristic of the band, that as we moved on to records ten, eleven and twelve, we started to do different things. So we made a very concerted effort to sing together on this album, either with direct harmonies or call and response, and we really enjoyed it. It felt like we were getting back to something that was very strong for us.”
Success wasn’t immediate for Blue Rodeo when they formed in 1985. By that point, Cuddy and Keelor already had seven years together, trying to attract music industry interest. “With the successes and failures – mostly failures – it never felt authentic,” admits Cuddy. “Even when we got a little nibble of interest, we thought, ‘Can we sustain this? Are we really this band?’ So coming back to Toronto (from New York) and shedding all that mimicry was so easy. We played what we really thought was good. It was very comfortable and we could see a long road ahead.”
From the band’s inception, Blue Rodeo forged its own path. And while there were times of doubt, the band stayed true to itself, and success quickly followed. Soon, block-long line-ups to see this exciting band gave Blue Rodeo the opportunity to tour and record with radio and video airplay not far behind.
“The early days of The Horseshoe (in Toronto) when we were filling the room were so exciting. Then I would go to my job at five in the morning and all these guys would be kidding me about how shit my band was – even though they’d come out to see us all the time,” laughs Cuddy. “It can’t get any better than the first appearance of success. We didn’t even know what success was! We just thought, ‘This is fun! This should be the way things are supposed to go! Nothing will change. We still have to keep our jobs.’”
But the successes continued to the point that now, with their 14th Warner Music Canada album (not counting a Christmas record, live albums and compilations), Blue Rodeo’s successes are measured in terms that include induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (2012), receiving a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award (2014) and acknowledgement that the band has steadfastly defined itself by its own terms, and in the years that ensued, sold in excess of four million records.
Those who have followed Blue Rodeo realize that the magic of the band’s sound is that co-leaders Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor are distinctly different personalities that complement each other. There are two definite songwriting voices within the band.
“Greg and I have this strange symbiosis which sometimes is contrasting and sometimes it’s marrying. We write in isolation. We don’t know what the other one is writing, but it seemed like we came with a much more energetic record this time than we have for some time,” Cuddy says.
Jim began writing his contributions to 1000 Arms a year prior to beginning to record. “Sometimes, you start a song without a clear picture of what you are writing about and it attaches itself to a story that you’re hearing. When you’re writing songs, you’re dealing with a pool of images and memories, and those memories can be very recent or very far back. We don’t look at that pool of creativity the same way we did twenty years ago.”
Greg’s method is different. “I write all the time,” he says. “It’s my hobby. I love being in that space of writing songs so I just keep writing them. For me, writing a song is repetition. I’ll sing a song a hundred times, for hours a day, just to get it right.”
The title track was inspired by a podcast Jim was listening to. “’1000 Arms’ is about a bipolar woman who had episodes where she got totally confused and didn’t know where she was. She had a coffee shop in a small San Francisco neighbourhood. She was very outgoing, dressing in colourful clothes and riding a hand-painted bike. Everybody in the community knew her. Whenever she’d have an incident, somebody would know who she was and take her back to her coffee shop. The podcast was about allowing your community to help you. When we were going over titles, we were thinking about our musical community, what it means to us and how much we would do for each other. That was what we were thinking about the most, so it seemed like an appropriate title.”
The opening track on the record, ‘Hard to Remember,’ started off as two different songs. “They were two very slow songs and I just didn’t feel like doing them that way,” recalls Greg. “We did a show in Belleville, and when I got home, I still had the ‘show head’ on from singing all night. I put the two songs together. I wanted to give them a little more zip and it worked out great.”
Greg tells a story etched in darkness in ‘Jimmy Fall Down.’ “Jimmy was one of the characters that used to hang around back in the Hi-Fi’s days (the band Greg and Jim were in prior to Blue Rodeo). The music we were involved with was a lot darker. Johnny Thunders (of the New York Dolls) was Jimmy’s hero. He had that whole vibe. Jimmy was a disaster, but he had a certain amount of charm in a derelict sort of way. I don’t know why he came up in my mind. I was writing a few lines and he sort of emerged.”
‘Rabbit’s Foot’ is a rocker, with a great guitar break supplied by Colin Cripps, and wonderful harmonies between Cuddy and Keelor. “(Co-Producer) Tim (Vesely) made a point of saying that he really loves Blue Rodeo when we’re singing together. Jim and I were both open to doing things as suggested, as often we’re not. This time, there was a very healthy collaboration. It was a lot of fun to be singing so much together.”
Cuddy takes the stuffing out of performers chasing the gigantic dream in ‘Superstar.’ “We did a bunch of gigs in L.A. about two years ago. Colin and I were riding our bikes around Beverly Hills, and even though I’ve been to L.A. a million times, I was so shocked and overwhelmed by the display of wealth. I just couldn’t believe it! The houses were so immense that I thought, ‘That’s the size of a school!’ I love L.A. I think it’s great, but it is the shallow centre of the world. I just tried to put in as many of the clichés of wanting to be part of a band.”
Jim’s turn of phrase in ‘Superstar’ includes a nod to a major songwriting influence. “That’s where I stop the mockery and want it to say, ‘A lot of good stuff came from there.’ Gram Parsons and that scene is a big part of who we are.”
‘Sleeping in the desert where they keep all the bodies hid,
Take peyote just like Jimmy did,
Make a funeral pyre and gasoline will get it lit
Say a little prayer for the souls departed.’
In the ballad, ‘Mascara Tears,’ Greg laments a loss of love, but a lesson emerges through the lyrics. “A lot of my female friends, by the fate of their lives, end up in these relationships that fuck up. They take it hard and it makes them question the deepest parts of their souls. It’s a sympathy card to a group of women that I know.”
‘Can’t Find My Own Way Back To You’ takes Jim back to New York. “Toronto is a city you can wander through but not really know what is going on. A lot is going on behind closed doors. Nothing was hidden in New York. It is great to be unknown because you can forge your own path. In our New York days, we just learned about music. Nobody cared what we did.
‘This city was everything we wanted it to be.
No one paid us any mind. That set us free.’
‘The Flame’ is an extended track that closes the album, and imagines Joan of Arc amidst tasty guitar licks from Cripps. “‘The Flame’ is about desire, and that love that just consumes you. The alchemic transformation,” suggests Keelor.
The maturity of the songs on 1000 Arms is evidence of a long, successful career that has taught the band, and its fans, a great deal. “From the beginning of the band, we never ever felt that there was an age category for whom we were writing,” Jim explains. “We felt that this type of music could encompass any age, any level of maturity, anything you wanted to say, as long as it was authentic. As long as it felt free of the conventions of other songs, we could write about anything we wanted. We have never worried about whether we’d be accepted or not.”
Although there have been line-up changes through three decades, Blue Rodeo is clearly very comfortable playing together. “In our band, it is necessary to know what you are going to do, but allow yourself to be guided a bit,” suggests Cuddy. “The guys have a pretty good instinct about what should happen in a song, but there needs to be some experimentation, trying different ways to get the best out of a song.”
The musicianship is superb with a rhythm section comprised of original band member Bazil Donovan along with drummer Glenn Milchem, keyboardist Michael Boguski adding colour, the addition of newest member Colin Cripps adding depth on guitar and vocals, and Bob Egan, whose mandolin, pedal steel and guitar added considerably to 1000 Arms. Egan, who announced he was leaving Blue Rodeo for a new position in Kitchener, will be missed by the band, but Cuddy states, “Kitchener is just down the road from us here (in Toronto), and there’s nothing to say he won’t join us from time to time.”
Reflecting back on three decades of successes and those early Blue Rodeo days, both Jim and Greg are able to fully appreciate where the band sits in the pantheon of music. “Success seemed really real when we were entertaining people in The Horseshoe. That was the top of the heap for us,” Cuddy says. “When you look back, you realize that it has just been this beautiful dream.”
1000 ARMS Reviews
?“…gorgeous, soaring harmonies and songs that, despite being lyrically strong, will likely be enduring for their melodic, textured musicality.This might be the time for Blue Rodeo to get some richly deserved attention here in the states.”
?Blue Rodeo has a “groove based on strummy guitars, expressive tunes and consistently top notch playing” and 1000 Arms offers “additional bite and soul in these performances…they (also)return to the basics of solid songwriting and organic playing. It works to their strengths and exhibits the resilience that has helped them keep the faith over three decades…”
?”In a word, this album is superb. In another, it’s essential…1000 Arms is not only an album of the year, but easily among the best of the decade as well. Suffice it to say it’s flawless.”
Tour 2016 Reviews
January 14, 2016 – Regina, SK
“The musicianship was nothing short of outstanding, as were the vocals. Cuddy and Keelor handled the lead vocals effortlessly and their harmonies were silky smooth.”
– Regina Leader Post
January 15, 2016 – Winnipeg, MB
“Blue Rodeo always deliver.”
– Winnipeg Sun
January 26, 2016 – Vancouver, BC
“…another polished, genuine love affair/performance from these seasoned pros.”
– Vancouver Sun
January 28, 2016 – Victoria, BC
“You can’t help but leave a Blue Rodeo concert on a high.”
– Victoria Times Colonist
Blue Rodeo with Devin Cuddy
Orpheum Theatre – Vancouver, BC – January 2, 2014
By Skot Nelson
Blue Rodeo are about as close to musical royalty as exists in Canada. It was only a couple of days prior to this—the first show of a national tour in support of the band’s new album In Our Nature—that the band’s founding members and chief songwiters Jim Cuddy & Greg Keelor induction into into the Order of Canada was announced. (I personally can’t figure out why fellow founder Bazil Donovan wasn’t included, but I suppose that’s how it goes sometimes for bass players.)
The afterglow of that announcement and a very successful launch of the band’s 13th studio album saw Blue Rodeo taking the stage at a not quite but very nearly sold out Orpheum theatre for the first of two nights to kick off their tour. Keelor opened the band’s show by explaining how the night would unfold. The first set, he explained, would consist of playing the entirety of the band’s new album in order. “I hate it when bands do that,” he said, “Hopefully some of you got a copy of it for Christmas, so you’ll know some of the songs.”
This, as it turned out, was a nice twist on the recent trend of nostalgia laden tours of artists playing full version of their “classic” albums. While it’s obviously nice to hear old favourites live it’s hard not to respect a band that isn’t just resting on its laurels and relying on old familiar material. It’s nice to see a band put new material out up front after thirty years in the business. If I’m being honest I could do without hearing the band’s first breakout hitTry ever again, so I personally looked forward to the new material.
As it turns out, it wasn’t that risky a strategy either. The In Our Nature material was well received by the audience with thundering applause after some of its finest moments. It’s material that it both instantly familiar and still fresh. The songs tell stories from the band’s life with Mattawa an ode to Ontario’s Highway 17, and Keelor’s Paradise a tribute to his electricity free songwriting shack north of Toronto. Songs more or less alternated between Cuddy and Keelor on lead vocals, with a couple of solo acoustic numbers thrown in for good mix.
If the material’s newness was a problem for the band, it wasn’t obvious to the audience. Aside from an amusing moment where Keelor started the first verse of a song and then stopped to tell the audience that “I fucked up” the new material poured out of the band as if they’d been playing it for their entire career.
After a short break, Blue Rodeo returned for that second set promised by Keelor and a patient audience was rewarded with the kind of material most bands can only dream of. There’s been a lot of hits in that thirty year career, and some pretty finely crafted songs. The opening chord of the second set was instantly recognizable as the opening of a thundering rendition of Diamond Mine. That was quickly followed by Till I Am Myself Again before the band moved into their early hit Rose Coloured Glasses. The rest of the set unfolded in what essentially amounted to a thirty year retrospective of Canadian alternative country.
For a finale, the band reached back to their best selling album 1993’s Five Days in July and the gently opening chords of the Hasn’t Hit Me Yet wafted into the Orpheum’s rafters with Keelor and Cuddy walking to the front of the stage. Rather than leading the expected audience sing along the band stayed silent while an audience of 3,000 sang the first two verses and chorus of the song for the them. Cuddy reluctantly took over vocal duties to finally wind down the show.
With the venue’s curfew rapidly approaching, it felt like the short two song encore wasn’t the sort of pre-planned mandatory encore that audiences have grown to expect. The band invited the night’s opener the Devin Cuddy Band back to the stage and a gorgeous version of Lost Together which saw the younger Cuddy taking his father’s vocal and singing with Keelor before the rest of the band cleared the stage and Keelor and Cuddy finally closed the show with an acoustic duet sung into a single mic.
When a band’s been around as long as Blue Rodeo it’s easy to take them for granted, and that’s a bad thing as an almost three hour show of fantastic music showed. The band is playing to its strengths, and playing as well as it ever has.
Any review of the night would be incomplete without mentioning the opening act the Devin Cuddy Band. The foursome is led by Cuddy on keys and played a great opening set but the real highlight came later when the band moved down the street to Vancouver’s Railway Club for a midnight set. In a frantic, kenetic hour of music Cuddy demonstrated that far from trading on his famous last name he’s got the musical chops to carve his own path. While his opening set consisted largely of tracks from his debut albumVolume One, this set mixed songs like She Ain’t Cryin’ Over Me and My Son’s a Queer with a string of covers by legendary song writers and artists as diverse as Randy Newman, Chuck Berry, Sonny Boy Williams and The Band.
After their creative rebirth on 2009’s The Things We Left Behind, I was truly excited to see where Canadian legends Blue Rodeo would bring their fans next. Not surprisingly, the band has risen to the challenge and then some with their latest record. The band confidently flexes their musical muscle on tracks like Wondering while tracks like New Morning Sun and When The Truth Comes Out show the band is continuing to embrace the warmth that has rightfully endeared them to audiences for more than two and a half decades.
by Ken Kelley
OVER the course of their nearly 30-year career, Toronto’s Blue Rodeo have not only sharpened their artistic vision, they has proven their worth as a hard-working and boundary-expanding roots-rock combo. You’d think there would be a law of diminishing musical returns by now, yet their 13th studio album showcases a band at its full artistic power.
Co-leaders Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor write the kinds of enduring songs that will resonate with those who have had some life experiences and the emotional scars to show for them. The opening line of most of these tracks — “When life feels like a storm-filled sky”; “Walk along the darkened streets”; “For all the wounds that never heal” — are indicative of the album’s lyrical approach. By keeping their easygoing, country-rock-infused sound as unpretentious as can be, and with the addition of guitar ace Colin Cripps to the folds, the recording has the classic Blue Rodeo sound that’s at once recognizable and ultimately engaging.
ION rates as one of the group’s best and most consistently listenable albums to date, but a half-star must be deducted for the average version of the Band’s Out of the Blue. At this stage of the game, Robbie Robertson should be covering Blue Rodeo songs, not the other way around.
– Jeff Monk
The Canadian band takes a dark turn on its 13th album since 1987, but songwriters Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor don’t face life’s last roundup without a fight. Warm chemistry and a sense of defiance thread through songs of loss and regret.
— Edna Gundersen
Download: New Morning Sun, Out of the Blue
While Blue Rodeo has worked with more light than shadow, there’s a follow-through to Jim Cuddy’s jaunty invitation to “share all the darkness in our souls.” In Our Nature is more concerned with mortality and loss than most of the catalogue, but befitting a band that just celebrated its quarter-century anniversary, Cuddy and Greg Keelor’s lyrics balance regret with resilience. Sombre thoughts aside, there’s even more warmth than usual here, from New Morning Sun — one of Cuddy’s most invigorating melodies — through Keelor’s determined road trip Mattawa and a deep-soul cover of the Band’s Out of the Blue. Recorded at Keelor’s farm, like the 1993 acoustic jewel Five Days in July, but with a broader focus than that career touchstone, and with new recruit Colin Cripps helping to ensure that Blue Rodeo’s signature prairie-wide guitar endures despite Keelor’s well-publicized hearing problems.
Podworthy: New Morning Sun
Blue Rodeo’s 13th studio full-length is everything you’d expect a new Blue Rodeo release to be: comfortable yet well worn, like the favourite denim jacket you bring out at the same time every year.
At worst, a plaintive and lethargic approach – particularly on the title track – slows their stride. (Sparseness doesn’t suit this seven-piece.) Yet these moments are few; the 14-track, hour-long effort never wanes for long. The bluesy swagger of Wondering and the jangly momentum on Mattawa, complemented by Greg Keelor’s heartening vocals, are as purposeful as anything BR’s released in the last decade. And there are tender moments, too, like on You Should Know, where Jim Cuddy doles out gentle paternal advice.
In Our Nature exemplifies the unique sound the band has been honing for 26 years, and the long road has proved invigorating, rather than exhausting, for Keelor, Cuddy and Co.
Top track: New Morning Sun
Lakefront cottages are the dream, but Blue Rodeo fills in for those who do without. The veteran melodic-twang practitioners, headed by Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy, invited 15,000 or so to their summer home at Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatre, a place of gigantic beer circumstances and often moments of magic. On Saturday, a crowd familiar with the ritual country-rock recital took in an evening of favourite songs and new material too. The band and its paying guests took and they gave, with both sides singing “into the waves of my heart.” The plenty of highlights included the following five:
Cynthia was an upbeat number which swung effortlessly and came with steel-guitar decorations from easy Bob Egan. Keelor, who told us the song was set near Alberta’s Lake Louise, sang stress-free about spaceships and trips into the “wide and endless night.” The original version (from 1993’sFive Days in July ) featured a saloon-piano jaunt from James Gray, the band’s former keyboardist who died recently. The same solo here, by Michael Boguski, had a raindrop feel to it. When it was over, Keelor told us that it was “nice to hear you sing.” Likewise.
The title track from the 1989 album has grown moodier and more acid-washed as the years have passed. It has reached a Doors-like sprawl now, with a diabolical organ detour and, from Cuddy, heavy electric-guitar colours. By the time it was offered – six songs in – the night was dark enough to break out the sparkle-light background and poetry. “Nothing’s as obvious as what is lost, nothing’s as painful as the cost, so let it shine, let it shine.”
This weekend Blue Rodeo announced plans for its new record, In Our Nature, to be released Oct. 29. The trio of tunes now streaming atbluerodeo.com/InOurNature was also unveiled in Toronto: Never Too Late, New Morning Sun andMattawa, a Keelor-sung road song which moved in an up-tempo, cosmic-Americana way – imagine a Grateful Dead cover of a Lightfoot number – despite its gloomier lyrical bent: “Sadness in the morning comes with the break of day, for the dawn is a thief that steals your dreams away.”
‘Looking back it’s hard to tell, why they stood while others fell’
Cuddy recognized the contributions of the late Gray, mentioning that the keyboardist was with the band when it first played on the site – the former Ontario Place Forum – where they were now standing. The extended version of 5 Days in May which followed was dazzled by a Neil Young-style adventure by Colin Cripps, the hired-gun guitarist brought on board because of the fragile state of Keelor’s ears. (He strictly sticks to acoustic guitar now.) Cuddy, bassist Bazil Donovan and Keelor are the three remaining members; other talented players have come and gone, but the band still has a sense of continuity in its favour. Later, the audience sang along on the finale, “Yeah, this ain’t nothing new to me, well it’s just like going home.” Same time next year, that would be the plan.
Bahamas is the name of the opening act led by Afie Jurvanen, a tall glass of water and nimble performer of guitar-based indie-pop. Recently signed to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire label, Jurvanen’s package is marked by a stylish brand of mischief and gentle tension. There’s a power packed into his retro-rootsy reverb, fun bop, urbane twang and doo-wop inspirations, but his touch is light and melodic. He’s the James Bond of singing-songwriting guitarists, with all sorts of nifty weapons at his disposal, including a pair of artfully employed female backup singers. At the end of one song they nodded to each other, as if to say “job well done,” and I was thinking much the same thing.
OTTAWA — After dozens of shows in cities and towns across the country, one would understand if Blue Rodeo found it necessary to slip into autopilot to get through the last few days of their extensive 25th anniversary tour.
But that was not the case at Scotiabank Place on Thursday, which marked my 15th time reviewing the Canadian Music Hall of Famers in concert.
Believe it or not, even from this jaded perspective, the band sounded better than ever in their annual Valentine’s Day date in the nation’s capital. In front of an audience of 6,000 fans in the arena’s scaled-down theatre configuration, the sturdy Canadian roots-rockers turned in a superb show that not only celebrated their roots, in keeping with the silver anniversary, but also hinted at a vibrant future with a handful of lovely new songs from an album that’s due later this year.
On a stage made cozy with carpets and an array of instruments, the band members gave a quick greeting and nipped into Cynthia, the sweet country-rocker sung in the ageless voice of co-frontman Jim Cuddy, followed by his upbeat Just One Night. Lead vocal duties switched over to the band’s other singer-songwriter, silver-haired Greg Keelor, for What Am I Doing Here, a great song written about a gig from hell at a Fort Erie fairground.
The current incarnation of the Toronto-based band includes veteran musician Colin Cripps on guitar and fresh-faced Michael Boguski on keyboards. Along with the harmonizing duo of Keelor and Cuddy, they round out the core Blue Rodeo lineup of bassist Bazil Donovan, drummer Glenn Milchem and pedal steel player Bob Egan.
The new recruits, Cripps and Boguski, were fantastic, especially during the extended trippyness of Diamond Mine, the title track from Blue Rodeo’s 1989 album. Boguski’s psychedelic noodlings recalled the antics of the band’s original wild man keyboardist, Bobby Wiseman, and Cripps’ dexterity on electric guitar seemed to inspire Cuddy to get a little more adventurous on his own six-string.
The rhythm section of Donovan and Milchem rocked out, too, leaving Keelor strumming his acoustic at one end of the stage, sidelined from the rock ‘n’ roll fun by a hearing problem that prevents him from playing electric. He stepped into the spotlight for plenty of acoustic tunes, though, including Fools Like You, an older song that’s been revived as a vote of support for the Idle No More aboriginal protest movement. In his intro to the song, Keelor commended Chief Theresa Spence for setting the wheels of change in motion, earning cheers from the crowd.
The concert was divided into two parts, the first half touching on old favourites like 5 Days in May and Piranha Pool, while the second roamed from the acoustic new tunes to knockout versions of the biggest hits, including Dark Angel, Til I Am Myself Again, Hasn’t Hit Me Yet, and the double whammy of Try and Lost Together. By the end of the show, it was clear: after all these years, we’re still in love with Blue Rodeo.
TORONTO – A quarter century in the music business is nothing to sneeze at.
So the arrival of Toronto’s own alt-country-pop kingpins Blue Rodeo for the first of two hometown shows at Massey Hall on Friday night in honor of the band’s 25th anniversary was definitely reason to celebrate.
And slowly but surely the group, led by one of Canada’s most respected singer-songwriting duos- Jim Cuddy, 57, and Greg Keelor, 58, – did just that.
After a solid if somewhat quiet first half, followed by a 20 minute intermission, the group significantly upped the fun quotient with a much more spirited and soulful second half and the audience responded in kind, jumping to its feet and finally dancing and singing along at the front of the stage after encouragement from Keelor.
Although it has to be said, one of the evening’s most memorable moments was when Cuddy and Keelor regrouped alone on stage for the second encore with just their acoustic guitars and beautiful harmonies on Is It You.
I could have listened to them do their songs like that all night long.
“Twenty five years ago this was unimaginable – to be playing at Massey Hall,” said Cuddy, who said the group was thrilled to be home as part of their 25 Canadian city tour following the release of a box set last year.
Rounded out by original bassist Bazil Donovan, an almost invisible presence beside stellar drummer Glenn Milchem who deserved to be front and centre, and pedal steel guitarist Bob Egan, along with touring keyboardist Michael Boguski, who stretched out too often with long solos, and standout guitarist Colin Cripps, the band opened the three hour evening with Cynthia from their 1993 album, Five Days in July.
But it wasn’t until another four songs with the duo of Bad Timing and Diamond Mine, that the show really kicked into first gear despite the presence of a starry background and three video screens, that definitely added to the atmosphere.
Keelor dedicated Fools Like You to “Mr Harper and the Reform government,” saying the song was originally written about Brian Mulroney circa Oka and The Meech Lake Accord, while other fan favourites like It Could Happen to You, and 5 days in May – the latter with great drum and guitar work by Milchem and Cripps – were among the first half’s standouts.
After the break, Blue Rodeo returned with a wisely chosen cover – The Band’s Out Of The Blue – with Cripps, Milchem, Donovan, Cuddy and Keelor seated in a row at the front of the stage before the band tried out some new material from an upcoming studio album due in the fall.
The best of the new songs were Keelor’s uptempo country soaked tunes like Matawa and Never Too Late.
Keelor also excelled on his own on stage with just an acoustic guitar on Dark Angel, backed by Boguski on accordian, and even Cuddy was impressed afterwards saying: “I have to admit, it made me happy. You’re getting better.”
Keelor shot back: “Take a break Jim. I could do a couple more.”
Instead, Cuddy delivered his most memorable vocal performance a song later with a gospel take on After The Rain, again with great guitar work by Cripps, and the crowd pleasing Til I Am Myself.
But it was Keelor, at the front of the stage, who had the audience singing every word to Hasn’t Hit Me Yet before he finally took over on lead vocals, and the gospel-infused You’re Everywhere which morphed into the old-timey bluegrass tune Somebody Touched Me.
When it was time for the for the first encore, Cuddy’s romantic appeal came to the forefront with his clear, strong voice on Try and Head Over Heels while Keelor’s Lost Together proved to be a triumphant way to (almost) end the show with Cripps given a chance to briefly sing lead vocals too.
BY MIKE ROSS
Trudging through the slush to see Blue Rodeo for the 25th time in Edmonton, even a cynical observer has to admit that these guys have to be doing something right.
They did everything right.
This is no freak of nature, no fluke, no accident. They’ve stayed on top this long for a reason, and we’re not sick of them yet, are we? Even when you consider that Blue Rodeo, or elements thereof, played Edmonton FOUR times in the last year. Wow.
The first of two shows at the Jubilee Auditorium on Tuesday night was the perfect Blue Rodeo experience – perfect as in not too perfect, served up with an utter lack of pretension and with the almost unconscious chemistry that can only come from musicians who have played together for a long, long time. These guys have played together for a long, long time.
Sure, there were warts, welts, blemishes, moments where you might mutter, “Oh, no, not the round-the-neck harmonica holder again,” but not mind too much. There were some hokey solos to go with the amazing ones, too many mid-tempo country rockers, and some pitchy vocals – and no AutoTune – and it all added character to the perfect Canadian band whose warm, soulful chemistry has carried them through 25 years to become a beloved national institution. Has “Canada’s Grateful Dead” been taken yet?
It takes a lot of talent to make human imperfection come off so perfectly.
Blue Rodeo celebrated its quarter Century mark without much fanfare or special effects, doing what they always do best: Playing a dependable show. The musicians strode on stage in their street clothes, only Jim Cuddy sporting a snappy Western shirt, said “hi” as if they were coming over to your house for beers and hockey, and laid into their opener, Cynthia. Thus ensued a trippy trip down memory lane, or anyway, a dusty road. This was a country music concert, after all, wasn’t it? It’s country music for people who didn’t know they liked country – and no pretentious hats to get in the way, either. The moods ranged from sleepy ballads like Five Days in May – or is it July? – to the raucous late night romp of You’re Everywhere, which turned into a full-blown gospel rave-up.
What sets Blue Rodeo apart from most of the other middle-of-the-dirt-road alt-county bands are the memorable melodies, along with the obvious rapport between the two singers Cuddy and the increasingly Dylan-like Greg Keelor. They weren’t perfect Everly Brothers-style two-part vocals by any stretch, but they worked, and that was just fine by this crowd.
Along with the unplugged “campfire” segment in the second half of the show, where they unveiled three new songs from a new album they’re working on – the best a hurtin’ song called Tell Me Again – came a big helping of country rocking goodness. There were heavy moments, too. Early on came a a jazzy song called Piranha Pool – featuring one of several amazing solos from keyboardist Michael Boguski – which comes off like an atheist anthem. The original lyric goes “I hope there’s some kind of heaven and there’s got to be some kind of hell for you,” which I swear Keelor changed to “there’s got to be some kind of hell for ME.” There’s a dark side to this man. This contrasted strangely to several songs that invoked the Almighty, including new one apparently called “Paradise,” as in “I’ve paid to price to stay in paradise.” Interesting we can witness a theological debate in what is otherwise a pretty fun and happy-go-lucky band.
Later came some venom as Keelor addressed the Idle No More Indian land issue and dedicated “Fools Like You” to Stephen Harper, changing the lyric to honour Chief Theresa Spence.
Politics was just one of many aspects to this show, however. One of the highlights was Cuddy on piano doing his best soulman routine on “After the Rain.” Sure didn’t sound like a country band there.
Much is made of the chemistry between Cuddy and Keelor – the sun and the moon, respectively, as one critic recently put it – but the entire band was amazing, especially drummer Glenn Milchem and bassist Bazil Donovan. Their grooves were so perfect – or perfectly imperfect – that they effectively played as one. Can’t have a Canadian institution without a good foundation.
4.5 out of 5
I have never owned a Blue Rodeo album, but they are nonetheless one of those quintessentially Canadian bands whose hits I know all the words to. I didn’t even realize I knew them that well until Saturday night, when they played at the Molson Amphitheatre for the tenth summer in a row. The audience was packed, the skies threatened rain, and Blue Rodeo led thousands of spectators in a singalong that lasted almost two hours. It kind of felt like Canada Day.
It’s refreshing to go to a concert for a band who isn’t touring — their last album, The Things We Left Behind came out in 2009. It frees them up from playing a ton of new stuff the audience may not know, instead allowing they to focus on their kind of iconic back catalogue. Not every band could put on a greatest hits performance that lasted that long, but Blue Rodeo has been around for almost 20 years now (surprising, I know) and they know how to mix a set. Holding the audience in the palm of their hand, Blue Rodeo’s set was like a series of waves, and they kept the energy going through a mix of highs and lows, never resting too long in a ballad or blowing it all on a series of up-tempo songs. And, it must be said, Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor sound as good now as they ever have.
Clearly, Cuddy, Keelor, Bazil Donovan, Glenn Milchem, and Bob Egan still enjoy their old stuff, because you could see Cuddy’s smile from over a dozen rows away (it was beamed back to the hill on the Amphitheatre’s handy screens). But, the Toronto band didn’t hog all the fun for themselves — Julie Fader joined them onstage for several songs and Steve Earle (who opened the show) made a couple of appearances, once to play his song “I Ain’t Never Satisfied” and again to add guitars and vocals to “Lost Together”, the final song of the night.
It was nice, actually, to see Earle come back out after his opening set. I’m not sure why things sound better after dark, but Earle was well-served by the sound when he reappeared on stage during Blue Rodeo’s set. Earlier in the evening, when he took the stage with his band The Dukes and Duchesses the audience was restless and the sound was a little muddy, which made the set feel more like a background performance. Well, background until Earle played Copperhead Road, his 1988 hit single. That caught people’s ears, but it was his last song, so seeing him back on stage later was a treat.
Verdict: Be amazed by the number of Blue Rodeo lyrics you know, and enjoy having the unpretentious space in which to sing them at the top of your voice.
First, a confession: Deep down, there’s something about me that I’ve probably known for quite some time, something that has become increasingly impossible to deny as the years have passed. There’s really no sense in fighting it anymore.
I am a closet Canadian.
Raised in Texas, granted. (Although born, fittingly enough, in Rochester, New York, just across Lake Ontario from Toronto.) The United States is home, always has been; in fact, I’ve been to all 50 states, and have lived in five of them. I love our nation’s ideals, our landscape, our horizons, our heritage, our hope.
But, man, I gotta say, every time I’ve been to Canada, I just marvel at what a good thing they have going up there. I’m sure I’m romanticizing to some extent — Canada undoubtedly has its troubles and its downsides, like any country on Earth — but there is a peacefulness in the north country, and the wide-open spaces are plentiful, and the citizens are predominantly polite, and they value the arts, and their health, and they aren’t so vastly beholden to material greed over human welfare. There is much to love about our neighbor land.
Damn good music, too. You know about Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen, and Cowboy Junkies, and The Band. (And we’ll forgive them for Celine Dion.) You probably don’t know about Stan Rogers, and Huevos Rancheros, and the Skydiggers, and Geoff Berner, and the Lost Dakotas. A shame, that, but no one gets to hear everybody (I’m sure I’ve missed a lot, too).
Chances are pretty fair that you know at least something about Blue Rodeo. The phrase which has forever been quoted about them, ever since it appeared in a Rolling Stone review more than two decades ago, is: “The best new American band may very well be Canadian.” That was back when they WERE new, in the late ’80s; nowadays, they’ve got more than a dozen albums to their name, along with a bookcase full of Junos (”the Canadian Grammy,” as the shorthand goes). In their homeland, they play large theaters, arenas, big festivals.
And, once in awhile, they dip down south and visit the States. They’re in the midst of one of those runs right now, to support The Things We Left Behind, a double-disc release that holds up rather well with their best work. Monday night, they played in my neck of the woods, at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro, North Carolina, to a couple hundred folks — a fair percentage of them displaced Canadians (you can tell, as they’re the ones who know most of the songs by heart), supplemented by a smattering of Americans who’ve managed to come across the band one way or other during the past 20 years.
Blue Rodeo is a really easy band to like. If you’re a fan of the Jayhawks, certainly, or probably even simply if you like Tom Petty or John Mellencamp or Bruce Springsteen, there’s a strong chance you would appreciate these guys. That old Rolling Stone quote was meant to underscore the quintessentially “American” nature of their music; North American, perhaps, but this is populist rock ‘n’ roll with a rootsy perspective, a healthy dose of country harmonies, and bluesy grooves permeating the narrative.
As with a lot of classic American bands, the essence revolves around a yin-yang partnership, in their case the congenial and sweet-voiced Jim Cuddy, and the more ruminative and rougher-edged Greg Keelor (That’s an oversimplification, of both of them really, but you get the point). Their longtime crew is no small part of the story: bassist Bazil Donovan has been there since mid-’80s the beginning, drummer Glenn Milchem joined in the early ’90s, and pedal steel guitarist Bob Egan (who spent the late ’90s in Wilco) is now a ten-year Blue Rodeo veteran.
But wait, there’s more. The latest in a line of keyboardists who have contributed significantly to the band’s sound over the years is Mike Boguski, who also sat in for several songs on this night with the excellent young opening act, Cuff The Duke (whose new album was produced by Keelor). Wayne Petti, the frontman for Cuff The Duke, returned the favor by joining Blue Rodeo onstage for about half of their songs, adding acoustic guitar accents and fine vocal harmonies. The real ringer, though, was Anne Lindsay, a firebrand of a fiddle player and superb supporting vocalist who helped take several songs to a whole ‘nother level during the night.
And so, on a sleepy Monday in a small venue on the edges of Chapel Hill, a band that routinely plays to thousands in its native Canada played a generous selection of their best material to a couple hundred fortunate folks, with a stage lineup ranging from six to eight musicians. Really, really good musicians. For a remarkably reasonable ticket price of 17 bucks.
For the Canadian transplants in the crowd, most of them accustomed to seeing the band at much larger venues, such a gig is probably dreamlike. For the band, well, maybe it’s not so great having to acknowledge that their top-tier success in Canada has never translated to the United States at anywhere near the same scale.
Then again, there is an element of this reality that is in fact quite a gift. Not many bands who reach large-venue status can still avail themselves of the opportunity to also play small clubs from time to time when they want to. Sure, you make a lot more money playing theaters and arenas and sheds … but just about any musician I’ve come across who’s worth a salt will allow that there’s nothing more fun than playing an intimate club gig. To have an outlet for reconnecting with such a fundamental musical experience, all the while knowing that the larger audiences are there for you back home, is in many ways a perfect balance.
Which is not to say Blue Rodeo wouldn’t love for a lot more Americans to hear their music. But if that doesn’t happen, well, hey, from the looks of things on this fair summer evening in the heart of Carolina, they’re gonna be just fine playing from their hearts for whoever’s fortunate enough to be out there in the crowd.
And for those of us who can’t be in Canada, our appreciation knows no bounds.
Peter Blackstock was co-founder and co-editor of No Depression magazine from 1995-2008, worked many years as a copy editor for daily newspapers in Seattle and Austin, and served as archivist for the SXSW music festival from 1989-1997. He blogs occasionally at That Magnificent Ghost.
Blue Rodeo is virtually an institution in Canada. Not quite up there with Mounties and maple syrup, perhaps, but sometimes it seems they’ve been around almost as long …
In truth, it’s been almost 30 years since the band formed in Toronto in the early eighties. They’ve had hits over the years, of course, and received their fair share of domestic airplay. But they’ve never really been a hit-oriented band, preferring instead to craft thoughtful, mature music that melds country and pop with a distinctly Canadian flavor to it all.
Craft is the operative word, and despite the occasionally sprawling nature of The Things We Left Behind, a double-disc set marking their 13th release (not counting solo outings and a greatest hits collection), the package as a whole is surprisingly intimate. Tunesmiths Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor have always been prone to taking their time, but this outing absolutely shimmers with the loving care invested in every song.
What’s also striking about the set is how apparent the band’s influences are, how loosely they’re worn on the sleeve. The harmonies on “Don’t Let The Darkness In Your Head” are distinctly Beatlesque, while “Arizona Dust,” with its interweaving of electric and acoustic guitars and dusty vocals, sounds like it could have been lifted from one of the Eagles’ earlier albums, though the lyrical touchpoints are distinctly Canadian. There are echoes of the Byrds in the chiming guitars and charging harmonies of “Never Look Back,” and moments in “Wasted” that recall The Who in their poppier moments.
Still, as befits the title, the band might be celebrating the past, but they’re not dwelling on it; influences may be obvious, but everything’s blended into a distinctive and thoroughly contemporary sound that could only be Blue Rodeo’s. Both Keelor and Cuddy are superb vocalists, and their alternating leads lend variety to proceedings. The rockers have the requisite drive, and the melodic ballads have an exquisitely aching tenderness. And there’s a thoughtful maturity to the writing, as Cuddy and Keelor both seem to be taking stock, reflecting on the passage of time and the state of the heart with penetrating but poetic insight.
An absolutely stellar outing, this is unquestionably the strongest statement yet from a band that continues to set new standards with each release.
This album, Canadian band Blue Rodeo’s 12th, is a testimony to the creative staying power of this extraordionary country-rock outfit. A double CD set consisting of 16 tracks, The Things We Left Behind is a lesson in how to deliver a first-rate country-rock album in this day and age.
In fact, in the absence of the now-defunct Jayhawks, Blue Rodeo is probably the alt-country standard bearer with its astute (and consistent) development of country-folk tunes matched with pop-rock dynamics.
On songs like the excellent Waiting For the World, Sheba, Arizona, In My Bones, the fragile soulfulness of the best country-folk shines through as acoustic guitars, pedal steels and violins pluck at your heartstrings. Whereas from the pop-rock perspective, wonderful songs like Never Look Back, the title track, Don’t Let the Darkness In Your Head and Wasted deliver all the right chops and hooks.
Yes, folks, this one is a definite keeper!
Blue Rodeo still an incredible act
By KEVIN BLEVINS, Leader-Post (Regina, SK)
January 18, 2010
Blue Rodeo played the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina on Saturday, January 16, 2010.
Blue Rodeo — legends of Canadian music — calmly walked onto the Conexus Arts Centre stage Saturday night, plugged in their instruments with understated confidence, and never looked back.
The Toronto six-piece, complimented on this night with a violinist and cellist, began at 8:45 p.m. and didn’t say so long until 10:55 p.m. During the 130 minutes in between, one of Canada’s best and most consistent music groups mixed new gems and old favourites with incredible ease. Opening with “Never Look Back” and “One More Night” from the new double album, The Things That We Left Behind, Blue Rodeo made its intent known early: Yes, we’ll play many of the hits you know, but we’ll also play a lot of our new work as well.
And so it was, for the capacity crowd in Regina’s sweetest sounding concert hall, an up and down — goofy happy and gently sad — joyride through Blue Rodeo’s expansive 23-year catalogue of rock/country/folk. Fun upbeat country-twang rockers, counterbalanced by beautiful symphonic ballads with some humour thrown in just for laughs.
Introducing “All The Things That Are Left Behind”, co-frontman guitiarist/singer Greg Keelor noted the Saskatchewan Roughriders, heartbreaking, last-second loss in November’s Grey Cup, where Blue Rodeo provided the half-time entertainment.
“I’d like to dedicate this song to the Roughriders, because they sort of left something behind,” he said.
“Way to win over the crowd,” co-frontman, guitarist/singer Jim Cuddy quickly added, later in the set apologizing for the Rider crack by saying, “I cheer for the (Toronto Maple) Leafs and we never win anything, so how would you like that?”
What the crowd seemed to like was anything the band played Saturday night, fast or slow, old or new.
The best example of Blue Rodeo’s eclectic song list came early in the set, when Cuddy, Keelor and company went back to 1997’s Tremolo to play “It Could Happen To You”, then jumped ahead to the brand-new sad but wonderful ballad “One Light Left in Heaven” then dug deep again, this time all the way back to 1987’s debut CD Outskirts to play the still incredibly optimistic “Rose-Coloured Glasses”.
Somehow, someway this odd triumvirate of songs worked; not one of them sounding out of place with the other.
Maybe it all works because the men of Blue Rodeo are incredible players live, always have been, and their talents are best executed in an acoustically perfect venue like the Conexus Arts Centre (Regina needs more concerts in the Centre, but I digress). Never too loud and always crystal clear, the only thing off with the audio mix Saturday night was that the steel guitar often overwhelmed the violin and cello.
Cuddy’s voice is an amazing instrument in and of itself, so strong and clear with wonderful pitch. Keelor’s deeper baritone, gritty with a touch of nasal, is no worse, just different. Together, the two-part harmonies these men accomplish are a thing of beauty, a great example of opposites attract.
Also fantastic, but not nearly as well known or understood, is the outstanding bass work of Bazil Donovon. In the pocket literally — he never moves from his spot to the right of the drum kit — and figuratively each and every night, Donavon’s fingers dance across the bass with the best of them. On songs like “Diamond Mine”, he anchors Blue Rodeo’s huge mosaic of melodies, never overwhelming but always giving strength to a piano/organ, three guitars and the aforementioned voices of Cuddy and Keelor.
Near the end of the set, Keelor allowed the crowd into the act as well, signalling the fans to sing the first verse and chorus of longtime favourite, “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”. In some venues, it would be a contrived stage gag, but in a Cathedral like the Centre, 1,500-plus voices in unison is a thing of beauty.
The night ended with a final singalong, with opening act Cuff the Duke joining Blue Rodeo for a joyous finale. All 13 people on stage delivered a rousing version of 1992’s “Lost Together,” which, according to iTunes, is Blue Rodeo’s most popular song ever.
A gem from a music box full of jewels. A brilliant way to end a brilliant night by one of Canada’s most brilliant bands ever.
EDMONTON — Would it be considered gauche to refer to Blue Rodeo as a warm sonic blanket?
Would Blue Rodeo itself cringe at being described as such? Too bad, because that’s essentially how the band’s music felt on a cold January night, with 2,300 fans packed into the Jubilee for the first of two concerts in town.
Warm and cosy, with piano and acoustic balladry, Crazy Horse stompers and uptempo country numbers spread through a near two hour set. It’s a testament to Blue Rodeo’s popularity that a set heavy on selections from their newest album, The Things We Left Behind, went over as well as it did. Where most bands would lean on their hits, Blue Rodeo just assumed that their newer songs would go over with the fans; and they did. Gorgeously arranged tracks like Don’t Let the Darkness in Your Head and Candice, bolstered by the addition of cello and violin, sounded like instant classics.
The fans did get to hear a few of their favourites, though, with the epic 5 Days in May being a particular standout. They’ve worked it into a frenzy both as a band and in Jim Cuddy’s solo projects, but Thursday night was a highlight, the song dwindling down to Greg Keelor reeling out soft lead lines while drummer Glenn Milchem dropped sticks and went straight to his hands.
It may be a standard Can rock radio number by this point, but Blue Rodeo still crank it for all it’s worth.
Blue Rodeo thrills sold-out Jubilee
By LISA WILTON – Calgary Sun
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Blue Rodeo has been doing its thing for 25 years now.
And while you think they would find the constant cycle of recording and touring a chore after so long, the finely tuned band never showed any signs of slowing down during last night’s fantastic sold-out show at the Jubilee Auditorium.
The crowd of 2,400 listened intently as the Ontario band played an entertaining mix of classic hits, fan favourites and new songs from its illustrious career. Blue Rodeo is on tour in support of its latest CD, The Things We Left Behind, an ambitious double album of psychedelic roots-rock.
Kicking off with a newer single, Never Looked Back, the group sounded tight and in control from the get-go.
Cuddy and co-songwriter Greg Keelor tag-teamed vocal duties throughout the night, while bassist Bazil Donovan, multi-instrumentalist Bob Egan and drummer Glenn Milchem played not only with proficiency, but also warmth and character.
For me, Blue Rodeo’s appeal has largely been the dusty harmonies created when Keelor and Cuddy sing together. And there were some exceptionally lovely vocal moments last night, particularly during renditions of Head Over Heels, Til I Am Myself Again and Five Days in May.
Both Cuddy and Keelor have a charming presence on stage and seem truly appreciative of the fans who filled the venue.
And the fans were even more enamoured with the Blue Rodeo.
When Cuddy took the mic for One More Night, and crooned ‘I would love to take the place of that man for just one night,’ you could just about hear half of the women in the audience say, ‘Yes, please.’
Cuff the Duke singer Wayne Petti joined the band onstage, adding his sweet-toned vocals to the harmonious mix.
His group did a fine job supporting Blue Rodeo with their melodic, earthy pop-rock.
Blue Rodeo and Cuff the Duke perform again tonight at the Jubilee.
Reviews – January 3, 2010 12:55 AM
Written By: CW Ross
The band Blue Rodeo got their start way back in 1984 in Toronto, Canada. The band signed with Warner Music Group and released their debut titled, Outskirts in 1987. Since then the group has released 11 studio albums, 2 live albums, and a greatest hits collection with the band’s total album sales surpassing the 4 million copies sold mark.
Over the years the band’s lineup has undergone a few changes with their current lineup consisting of original band members, Jim Cuddy (guitar/vocals), Greg Keelor (guitar/vocals) and Brazil Donovan (bass) along with new additions Glenn Milchem (drums), and Bob Egan (multi-instruments; guitars, pedal steel, banjo).
The band’s latest release, The Things We Left Behind, is a double-disc and their 12th studio album. The project comes in several different variations, as a 12×12 double gatefold, double vinyl album packaged with a double CD, individual full color art CD sleeves, and a lyrics insert or you can get the double CD version that comes without the double vinyl album.
All sixteen of the songs that are found on The Things We Left Behind are brand new and were co-written by original band members Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor.
I’m writing my review based on the 2-CD version of the release. Each of the CD’s feature 8 tracks that are filled with the band’s signature sound that’s a mixture of country, folk, and root’s rock music.
The lead vocals on the songs are shared by both Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy. You’ll be able to recognize who’s singing what by their distinctive vocal styles. Keelor’s vocals are deeper while Cuddy’s are higher-pitched and more treble sounding. You’ll also find lots of guest vocals courtesy of Canadian singer-songwriter and Indie rock band Cuff the Duke vocalist and guitarist.
Disc one of the release starts off with the track, “All The Things We Left Behind,” a song that starts out with an orchestral sound and a subtle deep drumbeat but as the song progresses moves more into a roots rock style. Lyrically the song deals with a broken relationship.
An interesting side note about “All the Things That Are Left Behind” is that it was the first song that Keelor says he ever wrote using the piano. The song also includes some interesting sounds from sampled tympanis that were then tuned to the track. The band also used a Mellotron to add cello and flute sounds to the track.
For those of you, like me, who aren’t really sure what a Mellotron is, it’s an electro-mechanical, polyphonic keyboard used a lot in 60s and 70s progressive rock music. The main component of the instrument is a bank of parallel linear magnetic audio tapes, which have eight seconds of playing time each. Playback heads located underneath each key enable the playing of pre-recorded sounds.
Next up is the song, “One More Night,” a lively keys (organ & Wurlitzer) and pedal steel filled track that has a really catchy sound that had my toes tapping along to its beats.
The next track that I would like to talk about is, “Never Look Back.” This up-tempo roots rocker is filled with well done guitar parts and vocal harmonies. Like many of the other songs the theme found on this one revolves around bad relationships.
The last song that I want to mention from disc-1 is, “One Light Left in Heaven.” The song is one of the several more melodic tracks that are found on The Things We Left Behind. The song has a real richness found on it thanks to its lush, guitar, violin and cello string parts.
Highlight tracks from disc-2 of the set includes the alt. country/roots rock track, “Arizona Dust,” and the interesting sounding track “Wasted,” that’s filled with both lively key work and some spacey sounding instrumental parts.
The 10-minutes long country/roots rocker, “Venus Rising,” gets the honor of wrapping up the music that’s found on disc-2. This song features several very lengthy period in which the song’s instrumentation is left to roam free in its green musical pastures. Lyrically the song deals with relationship issues that are a common theme found on this release. This time around though it’s about how life on the road can be really hard on a relationship.
There are several things that make The Things We Left Behind work so well including the large amounts of instrumentation that’s found in its songs, that are left to run free and not tied down to some shortened radio friendly formula. Also the several different style of music that are found in the songs that make up this release work very well together with each given their own time in the musical spotlight.
The 16 songs that make up The Things We Left Behind have the feel of having been through the fires of life and time spent on the road and have come out of it finely sharpened and ready to go!
Label: Rating: 3.75 out of 4 Guns
These guys can make good
albums without trying.
And have. Not this time.
Cuddy, Keelor and Co.’s 12th
studio outing is their most
ambitious and varied set to
date, with 16 sharply crafted,
richly melodic tracks of
twangy rock, country honk,
rustic Americana, rootsy
soul, psychedelic freak-folk,
and even sombre orch-pop
and jazz. Seems all they left
behind were limitations.
It’s too easy to take the songwriting of Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy for granted. Over the past 25 years, they¹ve become like a warm and comfortable shoe to fans of Canadian roots rock. Yet, on this new 16-song, double CD, Keelor and Cuddy prove they remain unequalled at what they do. This is an ambitious album without being over-bearing or jarringly experimental like 2002’s Palace of Gold. Keelor pays homage to his taste for ’60s psychedelia on epic production numbers like Million Miles, with its Who-like harmonies, and Venus Rising, the album’s extended guitar closer. And there’s plenty for fans of Cuddy’s gentler balladry on tracks like Arizona Dust. Although Blue Rodeo has lost full-time keyboard player Bob Packwood, The Things We Left Behind does not deteriorate into a jangling guitar album. There are dozens of young bands trying to put their mark on a distinctly new Canadian alt-country sound. Unfortunately, they need look no further than this album to find it.
Blue Rodeo delivers classic roots-rock
By Lynn Saxberg
The Things We Left Behind ****
Canadian roots-rockers Blue Rodeo have hit a nice creative stride in the last few years, and it’s good to see the momentum carry through on their latest studio recording.
Released Tuesday, The Things We Left Behind contains two albums worth of new songs, a motherload of music in this era of downloadable singles.
Happily, it doesn’t feel bloated.
There are just eight songs on each album, and the studio tinkering is minimal. Most songs are based on the acoustic guitars and harmony vocals of co-frontmen Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, with judicious use of strings and piano
On the first disc, the songs range from the grand ambitions of the title track, an anthemic processional by Keelor, to Cuddy’s swaggering, Stones-like “Sheba” and Keelor’s epic “Million Miles”.
But the second disc, my favourite, is where you’ll find some of the best tunes, including the Beatlesque “Candice”, a Keelor rocker called “Wasted”, Cuddy’s sad “And When You Wake Up” and the psychedelia-tinged “Venus Rising”.
Given an extra layer of vocals provided by Cuff The Duke’s Wayne Petti, who sings on most of the tracks, you’ll be reminded of Crosby, Stills and Nash, as well as the Eagles, Beatles and Stones.
In other words, it’s classic Blue Rodeo.
The official line, espoused almost verbatim every time Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy opens his mouth these days, is that the band’s new double album, The Things We Left Behind – released Tuesday in a variety of formats, including a two-disc vinyl package complete with retro gatefold cover – is the result of a creative burst experienced jointly by Cuddy and his career-long sidekick, guitarist/songwriter Greg Keelor.
“When we first got together to play the songs we’d been preparing for the next recording, we realized we had far more than we could put on a single album,” he says via a crackling cellphone from a car somewhere in Alberta, en route to Calgary, where he and Keelor played earlier this week. It was part of a quick, cross-country acoustic two-hander, the first the millionaire songwriters have undertaken in their extraordinarily successful 31-year partnership.
“It would have seemed false to divide them up and make two separate CDs,” he says. “We decided to arrange the flow of the music over a double album, and to release it on vinyl, so we wouldn’t be constrained by the length of the songs.”
“We talked about sequencing the songs into four distinct sides, and stretching some songs out to 10 minutes, if that’s what they needed. It’s a nice way to arrange music.”
It’s not unusual for Cuddy and Keelor to arrive at Blue Rodeo sessions with an overabundance of new songs. The band leaders, who often rub each other the wrong way, generally resolve their difference in collaboration with long-time colleagues, bassist Bazil Donovan, drummer Glenn Milchem, lap-steel player Bob Egan and keyboardist Bob Packwood, by picking material that suits the band’s general oeuvre and their fans’ expectations, and saving the rest for solo releases.
But at a time when digital recordings seem to have lost their commercial viability, a new strategy seems both necessary and apropos. Cuddy and Keelor are making a big deal of their creative cohesiveness this time out, chatting it up like a couple of reunited brothers who’ve buried the hatchet.
“We haven’t quite succumbed to the separate-vehicle touring mode,” Keelor says, chuckling. “And we’re actually sharing hotel rooms on this trip. Turns out Jim’s a great roommate.”
And the band is publicizing the launch of The Things We Left Behind with a performance on the roof of Diesel Playhouse (55 Blue Jays Way) on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m., and an afternoon street party.
The band is also performing for the first time at the Grey Cup half-time show on Nov. 29.
Mindful of the re-emergence of long-playing vinyl recordings in the past five years, Cuddy and Keelor, who developed their musical muscles in the pre-digital era, are putting their best marketing feet forward, offering fans a seemingly more valuable product, a bigger slice of Blue Rodeo and a more formidable package.
“We’ve seen a huge resurgence of interest in vinyl,” Keelor says. “”I don’t think I’m alone in my appreciation of a collection of songs with interwoven themes spread over two discs. I don’t think the concept is dead. In fact, I think it makes music more meaningful.”
They’re covering their bets, all the same.
The Things We Left Behind, produced at Blue Rodeo’s Woodshed Studio just off Danforth Ave. in Toronto’s east end, is also available as two CDs, and in a special iTunes digital package with interactive liner notes, exclusive photos of the band and portraits of their most prized instruments, a song-by-song commentary by Cuddy and Keelor, and bonus acoustic performances of four new songs from the album.
Whether it’s a canny bit of commerce or a genuine exploration of the band’s greater potential – evidenced occasionally in live performances – the double album is probably a more honest representation of Cuddy’s and Keelor’s very different musical natures than we’ve seen in a long time.
It covers a lot of ground, embracing expansive, symphonic constructs (Keelor’s opening cut, “All The Things That Are Left Behind”), smart country-pop (Cuddy’s “One More Night”), proto-punk alt-country (Keelor’s “Never Look Back”) and grand prog-rock instrumental experiments (the guitar-dominated closer, Keelor’s “Venus Rising”).
It’s not quite Blue Rodeo’s White Album, but it has a lot of disparate ideas that usually end up on the writers’ very different solo projects.
“The solo stuff is just something to do between band recordings, which usually happen at the end of a two-year cycle,” Keelor says. “Jim has a full secondary career going as a solo act, so the rest of us make solo recordings as well, to fill in the time.”
As for Blue Rodeo’s apparent step out of its safety zone with the new album, Cuddy says, “We’re lucky to have our own hybrid studio – we can move back and forth between analog and digital modes. This time we set no limits on imagination.”
By Lia Grainger,
An onscreen sexpot, twin fashion designers and an iconic children’s author are among the eight Canadians selected to join Canada’s Walk of Fame this year.
This year’s eight inductees — announced Tuesday by CEO and Walk of Fame president Peter Soumalias — are folk-rock band Blue Rodeo, twin fashion designers Dsquared2 (Dean and Dan Caten), comedian and television host Howie Mandel, Paralympian track athlete Chantal Petitclerc, Sex in the City star Kim Cattrall, musician Tom Cochrane, the late actor and Perry Mason star Raymond Burr, and children’s author Robert Munsch.
Canada’s Walk of Fame honours Canadians with significant achievements in a wide range of categories, including music, sport, film, television, writing, visual and performing arts, and science and innovation. Since 1998, 116 Canadians have each had a star set in the King Street sidewalk in the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district.
This year’s inductees will be celebrated at the 12th annual Canada Honours tribute, an evening of performances and award presentations that will take place Sept. 12. The event’s broadcast date on Global — part of a new partnership between the Walk of Fame and Canwest — has yet to be determined.
Although the nominees are diverse and difficult to define by a single characteristic, Soumalias has managed to come up with one: “Each and every one of their stories is inspirational,” says the event’s president.
“We, as an organization, hope to harness that energy and that storytelling and inspire the next generation of young Canadians and emerging talents.”
In his announcement, Soumalias also revealed plans for a heritage centre to house objects of national significance. He said the location of the original Canadian flag, unfurled in 1965 is unknown, adding that the scenario is not unique.
The centre is one of several initiatives that Canada’s Walk of Fame hopes to put in place in the coming years to better acknowledge the country’s many success stories.
A disco ball twirled ironically at Toronto’s Dakota Tavern, a charming honky-tonk basement of unfinished wood, half-barrel bar stools and Buck Owens concert posters. Men don’t shave before arriving, and women don’t mind a bit. It’s where Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, the blue troubadours of iconic country-rockers Blue Rodeo, performed an intimate set Tuesday evening to benefit War Child Canada, a far-reaching organization that supports children imperilled by armed combat. It was a cozy event of informally strummed, often wistful music – nothing glitzy about it.
Keeler and Cuddy sparkled, though, in their own aw-shucks way. “We haven’t played these songs in a while,” Cuddy cautioned early. “There may be a few surprises.”
Without their band mates, the unaffected pair stuck to simple campfire arrangements of material that spanned an ongoing career, from 1989’s How Long to last year’s nostalgic Blue House. Cuddy used a rack harmonica and occasionally a mandolin (on English Bay and Hasn’t Hit Me Yet) in addition to his acoustic Gibson guitar. Keelor never let go of his six-string, a vintage Epiphone Texan model.
The two specialize in misty-eyed melodies and reflective lyrics, with memorable choruses sung in charismatic harmony – Cuddy high and Keelor low, usually, though they switched places on the gentle depression of 3 Hours Away.
What the two songwriters know is that even the worst events and poorest circumstances can be bearable if the load is shared. “You don’t know what it’s like,” they sang on a Bee Gees hit they now fairly own, “to love somebody, to love somebody, to love somebody the way I love you.” Some in the crowd, maybe the people who sang along, seemed to know what it was like.
The music of Keelor and Cuddy is about commiseration: Being off course isn’t so bad as long as “we are lost together.”
The concert (part of an ongoing series, previously featuring shows by Sarah Harmer and Kathleen Edwards) ended with an encore of Disappear, Til I Am Myself Again and Bad Timing.
When it comes to live albums, Blue Rodeo thankfully haven’t yet reached the level of predictability as, say, the Rolling Stones or Rush, but given the band’s reputation in Canada, it’s easy to assume Blue Road would be a quick cash-grab at the expense of their ever-loyal fan base. Thankfully, it isn’t — meaning that at the same time it’s not what most of those fans would expect. In the spirit of the Grateful Dead (see 1981’s Reckoning), the package is comprised of both a visual and audio representation of an “unplugged” performance at Toronto’s Massey Hall from earlier this year, which allowed Messrs. Keelor and Cuddy to stray slightly from their usual standard playbook. It’s particularly nice to hear early nuggets like “Rebel” mixed in with recent concert favourites like the Bee Gees-via-Burrito Brothers’ “To Love Somebody.” A 50-minute fly-on-the-wall documentary featuring a few more rarely played covers is an additional treat, although it’s largely a missed opportunity to provide some insight into the band’s history and legacy. Moreover, the Massey Hall footage is barely above bootleg quality. But for long-time fans, the music alone on Blue Road provides a worthwhile alternate view of an institution too often taken for granted. (Warner)
Think of this CD/DVD combo as a Christmas-time communiqué updating you on the highlights of the sender’s past year. That’s what Blue Rodeo is, a family friend — one that on its Small Miracles tour graced Toronto’s Massey Hall with a snug acoustic set, captured in purposely rough-cut form. The bonus of the package is a documentary by Chris Mills that covers a musical get-together on Greg Keelor’s farm. The film is warmly shot, aimed at leaving fans as satisfied as Keelor’s fat orange cat. And when Jim Cuddy sings an old, bittersweet George Jones hit, it’s clear that if it was a good year for the roses, it was a fine one for Blue Rodeo too.
– Brad Wheeler
BoDeans and Blue Rodeo turn in strong sets
11:54 PM CDT on Saturday, March 15, 2008
By THOR CHRISTENSEN / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – A lot of alt-country acts are weeping over the death of No Depression, a magazine devoted to American roots music. But probably not the BoDeans or Blue Rodeo.
Both bands formed a decade before ND did – back when alt-country was still called roots-rock. And judging from their strong sets at South by Southwest, they’ll still be kicking long after everyone’s thrown their stacks of No Depression magazines in the recycling bin.
The Milwaukee-bred BoDeans are experts at finding the pop side of twang. Playing a free show Friday at Auditorium Shores, it had thousands “whoa-oh”-ing along to “Still the Night” from their T Bone Burnett-produced 1986 debut LP. Equally infectious was “First Time” from its new CD Still.
But for all their 24-karat melodies, the BoDeans’ real trademark remains the honey-and-sandpaper harmonies of Kurt Neumann and Sam Llanas. Dallas gets its chance to hear them Friday night, when the group plays House of Blues.
Toronto’s Blue Rodeo also has tons of shimmering hooks and harmonies in songs such as “What Am I Doing Here?,” its brilliant set-starter at Smokin’ Music. But the band focused on the roots side of roots-rock, firing up tunes with hard-core pedal steel and honky-tonk piano.
Like the BoDeans, Blue Rodeo is proof that great twangy music often hails from the frozen tundra.
They have the chops to warrant the attention and high expectations they’ve sparked since their debut…. When Rodeo hits the mark with the likes of “Summer Girls” they’re first class.
Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy, the Lennon & McCartney of Canadian roots-rock, have been writing and performing together for 25 years. While there’s nothing to indicate that Small Miracles represents the end of the road, it does feel like it was written from a vantage point where that end is visible. References to mortality and finality sprout in song after song, and most everything feels bathed in twilight.
“I don’t have all the time in the world, they sing on the album-opening “So Far Away”, and the title track, tellingly, is set late in the evening. Keelor, whose songs tend to be edgier and more sprawling than Cuddy’s, laments a bruised-beyond-repair relationship that has reached the goodbye point in “It Makes Me Wonder”. “C’mon,” which captures the sextet at their catchy-rock best, tells of days that are gone forever. Even Cuddy’s brightly lit pop songs, “Summer Girls” and the crescendo marvel “This Town”, have the sting of leaving lurking. And “3 Hours Away”, a gentle country rocker that’s reprised as the more atmospheric “Where I Was Before” to close the album, nails the overall mood: “Some things aren’t meant to last/Like a day that burns up fast/Turn away and then it’s gone.”
Blue Rodeo’s trademark sound, a multi-national combination of Beatles, Band, and Byrds with the occasional honky-tonk detour, is in excellent form. Even if the end of the road appears to be on the minds of Keelor and Cuddy, their music still sounds like it could go on forever.
– Rick Cornell
Dual-personality show a revelation
JORDAN ZIVITZ, The Gazette
Published: Friday, February 01
About six years ago, Blue Rodeo rejuvenated itself with the temporary addition of a hot-blooded brass section. Last night at Théâtre St. Denis, the band proved you can gain just as much through subtraction.
For the first 50 minutes, Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor and company whittled away layer after layer of their country-folk-rock-soul hybrid, making very familiar songs dazzle in a new light.
Usually a mid-set show-stopper, 5 Days in May was moved to the opening position, reworked to bring all the intimacy out of a standard that even hard-core fans may have begun taking for granted. With Glenn Milchem’s drum kit downsized to a solitary snare and Keelor’s climactic guitar solo cascading instead of rumbling, the fireside mood was set.
The underrated Rebel was a gift for long-time followers, and for those who wish Blue Rodeo would plumb the depths of a very rich catalogue more often. Once again, the naked arrangement threw Keelor and Cuddy’s harmonies into stark relief. More than at any show since the magical 1994 Spectrum two-nighter supporting the Five Days in July album, last night spotlighted not just the songs, but the voices.
Even numbers from the new album, Small Miracles, were recast: Blue House – an ace showcase for pedal-steel guitarist Bob Egan and keyboardist Bob Packwood – was considerably nimbler than on disc. Speaking of nimble, Try – another song that has suffered from ubiquity – was faster, looser and lighter than ever, losing at least 15 years of its age.
Melissa McClelland (from impressive opener Luke Doucet’s band) lent crystal harmonies to the rarely played gem Know Where You Go/Tell Me Your Dream. Then, after Bad Timing stripped away everything but Cuddy and Keelor’s guitars and harmonies, the rear-stage curtain dropped, revealing a full electric set-up. Considering everything that came before, Til I Am Myself Again had rarely sounded so cathartic and urgent.
Much of what followed served as a reminder of just how much electricity can course through Blue Rodeo’s veins. Rose-Coloured Glasses found Keelor masterfully navigating the song’s tricky middle ground between compassion and alienation. Black Ribbon was the mandatory stoner offering, sating fans of the band’s elegantly wasted years, and a spiky C’mon more than made up for an atypically drowsy Mystic River.
The soothing spirit of the concert’s first half rose again with What Am I Doing Here and a vulnerable Dark Angel. The latter – Keelor’s crowning achievement – would have been more beautiful only if an attention-starved goofball hadn’t let loose with a massively inappropriate whoop.
Critics are supposed to work behind an unconvincing veil of objectivity, but what the hell: Out of the 30-odd times I’ve seen Blue Rodeo, last night’s expertly calibrated show ranks near the top of the list. If you’re a fan – especially a lapsed one who has forgotten what attracted you to the band in the first place – buy a ticket for tomorrow’s repeat performance. You’ll love what’s left out, and then love what’s put back in.
(Live Review-Jan. 15, 2008 at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre)
RATING: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Jubilee Auditorium, Edmonton – January 7, 2008
EDMONTON – After all these years, Blue Rodeo can still surprise.
Impossible, you say?
A veteran band synonymous with words like “consistent” and reliable” that’s been here a million times and does basically the same show every time can actually do something to shake things up?
Well, they did last night.
For the first of two nights at the Jubilee Auditorium, the band appeared to have morphed into a down-home, country jug band – complete with acoustic guitars and a stand-up drummer who played nothing but a snare – jamming out stripped down, salt-o’-the-earth arrangements that wouldn’t have been out of place at the Grand Ole Opry – 50 years ago.
Not that big a stretch, I’ll grant you. Blue Rodeo remains Canada’s most country band that isn’t a country band.
They could be a country band. All they’d need is some cowboy hats, some hits on country radio and a few drunk driving charges. Just joking – these guys would never get played on country radio. Yet they sound more country than most anything on there. Especially last night. The drummer didn’t even have a cymbal.
Front man Jim Cuddy said, “As you can see, times are tough. We couldn’t afford to bring the rest of our gear.”
These guys are rich. Hello? Two sold-out nights in the Jube? All those platinum records?
They tour now behind another consistent and reliable new album, Small Miracles, which as usual contains a consistent and reliable assortment of hood-laden, rootsy gems that represents the finest that “alt-country” can offer.
It’s alt-country with a touch of Everly Brothers, of course. That’s what makes Blue Rodeo so special.
The show opened with a small skit. A man walked out into what appeared to be a small living room area, sat on a chair next to a record player and put on Ennio Morricone’s The Lonely Goatherd or some such thing, which got a laugh.
What unfolded next was a rich tapestry of unplugged, rootsy goodness. The opener, Heart Like Mine, was just lovely. The lazy toon Five Days in May (from the album Five Days in July, which is really confusing) came off so peaceful and easy it could’ve been the Eagles on Quaaludes. Their version of To Love Somebody was wonderful.
An up-tempo new one called Blue House featured a tasty steel solo from Bob Egan and an even tastier piano solo from Bob Packwood. Keyword here: Tasty! You can see lots of new adjectives to add to “consistent” and “reliable.”
And so it went. The quieter setting tolerated fewer wasted notes and showcased the some beloved songs in a whole new light.
The best example was probably Try, which sounds like a classic soul song set in a folk vein, recast on stage in a gentle two-step where you could hear every nuance. Cuddy even hit a higher note than was required. It was awesome.
I’m sure the crowd would’ve been pleased with this new and improved Blue Rodeo Jug Band all night, even the yahoos up in the balcony who kept shouting out for Dark Angel.
“I hate that song,” Cuddy told them.
But then the band had another surprise up the sleeves of their tasteful western shirts.
With the release of a black scrim and a flash of light to reveal a proper drum kit for Glenn Milchem, Blue Rodeo ripped into a blistering rendition of Til I Am Myself Again – and voila, they were a country rock band rollicking away until well past deadline. Just like the old days.
What will they do next? These guys aren’t famous by accident. The keyword is “showmanship.”
By MIKE ROSS
Blue Rodeo It’s very easy to take this Canadian roots rock institution for granted after two-plus decades in the game. The impact and influence they’ve had on the younger generation of artists they’ve gone out of their way to assist should not be underestimated, and they keep regularly delivering quality work. Small Miracles, studio album number 11, is one such worthy addition to the canon. Like your favourite brand of beer, you essentially know what you’re going to get with a new Rodeo record: there are going to be the ballads sung sweetly by Jim Cuddy alongside the more introspective and intense tunes delivered via Greg Keelor’s trademark gruff vocals. This yin and yang of the Lennon and McCartney of Canrock remains the essence of Blue Rodeo, and it’s yet to sound tired. Sure, there’s some lightweight fare here that won’t linger long (“Summer Girls,” for one) but there’s enough of the good stuff to keep their faithful fan base content. The disc starts strong with Keelor in full stride on the moving “So Far Away,” followed by another tuneful Cuddy-sung ballad, “This Town.” The musicianship throughout is predictably top-notch, whether it’s the eloquent piano on the melancholy “Together” or the haunting steel guitar punctuation on musically adventurous highlight “Black Ribbon.” Long may this Rodeo ride.
— Kerry Doole
With Small Miracles, it seems apparent that Canuck rootsy-rock Kings Blue Rodeo are at the top of their game. That’s saying a lot. They have gone from humble to huge over their long career and are arguably miles ahead of almost anyone making these kind of subtly engaging and well-crafted songs. The happy-making shuffle of Blue House, the adult-contemporary, romantic real-ness of It Makes Me Wonder and 3 Hours Away prove that main songwriters Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor can still deliver great songs that connect broadly. Their Byrds-informed chime is still evident here, and they even toss in some minor-key jazz on Together and a morsel of light psychedelia on the sweet Black Ribbon. It will definitely be worth checking them out when they hit the MTS Centre in late January.
Just a few twang-heavy bars into the spirited opener, So Far Away, a deaf hermit with no radio could tell you this is Blue Rodeo. But familiarity doesn’t always breed ennui, much less contempt. It is indeed a small miracle that an automatically identifiable band can make an album that sounds so fresh two decades after its debut. The vibrancy comes in part from a slight return to dormant country-fried roots, and Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor are pushing themselves farther than they were on 2005’s comfort-food disc Are You Ready (witness Cuddy’s atypically vitriolic C’mon and Beautiful’s jazzy outro). Warm, soulful and remarkably consistent, this is the stuff all 20-year-long careers should be made of. Jordan Zivitz, CanWest News Service
Everyone’s favourite roots-rocker, Blue Rodeo, shows its mellower side on its latest release, Small Miracles (Warner). Known for mixing Jim Cuddy ballads with Greg Keelor guitar-scorchers, this time even Keelor keeps a lid on his noisy tendencies, aiming instead for quiet reflection.
When he does get experimental, it’s on the production side. Black River stops mid-track for a Beatles-esque cello break. The sweet pedal steel and piano chorus give way to a daydream sequence, with some breathy sound effects straight out of I Am The Walrus, before launching back into a muted lead guitar break. Keyboards dominate on several tracks; Bob Packwood’s acoustic and electric piano and organ are much more prominent than on other outings.
There’s even a jazz feel to one track. And Jim Cuddy does what Jim Cuddy does better than any other Canadian singer: hitting the heart with timeless ballads. Standouts on this release are the title cut, an acoustic guitar and piano waltz, with Cuddy pouring his heart into the line “I pray for small miracles too”; and This Town, where he sits down at the piano, the “Surprise, surprise” chorus the disc’s most glorious pop moment.
Another surprise is the disc’s biggest rocker, which comes from Cuddy instead of Keelor, as he moves into a swinging, guitar-strumming mode on C’mon, which could’ve been a great Creedence Clearwater Revival hit. It’s one of the few danceable tracks here, but so what, it’s a passionate and pleasing disc, straight from the heart, and perhaps the long-lasting band’s most beautiful.
— Bob Mersereau
A new vein of creativity for Blue Rodeo on latest disc
Blue Rodeo – Small Miracles (Warner Music Canada)
Rating 4 (out of five)
My first inkling of a renewed vitality among the members of Blue Rodeo came this past summer when I popped onto the band’s tour bus to say hi before they performed at Bluesfest.
In this air-conditioned cocoon, cut off from the rest of the festival, I watched the core songwriting duo of Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor warm up for their big show as if they were jamming around a campfire. There was some impressive picking coming from their acoustic guitars, but I didn’t recognize a thing.
Although it was a neat moment, it struck me as a funny way to hold a last-minute rehearsal — why bother running through a bunch of stuff if you’re not planning to play it on stage? However, now that I hear the band’s amazing new record, I think I understand. It must have had something to do with the excitement of hitting a new vein of creativity.
For anyone who was expecting the same old midtempo country rock from a band that’s been around for more than two decades, Small Miracles, Blue Rodeo’s 11th studio outing, is a delightful surprise. While there are no shocking departures from the band’s basic style (yup, still midtempo country rock), what sets this record apart is the terrific songwriting and inspired ensemble playing, with some built-in room for improvisation.
Recorded at the band’s Woodshed studio in Toronto, Small Miracles captures the magic that happens between musicians who have been playing together for years. In Blue Rodeo’s case, the fire is stoked a little higher by the presence of keyboardist Bob Packwood, the most recent addition to the band. His inventive piano and organ work gives the music a new dimension. There’s also a string section adding a touch of colour to a handful of songs.
Keeping in mind that Cuddy and Keelor released excellent solo albums last year, it’s pretty impressive that each one has come up with some more great songs for Small Miracles. It’s easily their best album since the landmark Five Days in July, released in 1993.
From Cuddy, who just keeps getting better at cranking out songs that have melodic and emotional hooks, we hear the breezy Summer Girls, the tear-jerker 3 Hours Away, the melodic Mystic River and the upbeat first single, C’mon, which has a perky thump that disguises the love-gone-sour edge of the lyrics. My favourite of Cuddy’s batch is the piano-laden This Town, the second single, a bittersweet ode to misplaced expectations and lost dreams that ultimately finds the will to keep trying. When Cuddy sings, “You don’t have to love this town,” in that silky tenor of his, resignation never sounded so sweet.
Keelor, who has always provided the dark, adventurous counterpart to Cuddy’s tuneful country-pop songs, weighs in with some of the best songs of his career.
That includes the jangly psychedelia of So Far Away, the harrowing It Makes Me Wonder and the stark and haunting Beautiful. To my ears, the high point of the record is Keelor’s Black Ribbon, a majestic anthem that strays into Come Together-like disarray before landing squarely back on the groove.
— Lynn Saxberg
For anyone who was expecting the same old mid-tempo country rock from a band that’s been around for more than two decades, Small Miracles, Blue Rodeo’s 11th studio outing, is a delightful surprise. While there are no shocking departures from the band’s basic style, what sets this record apart is the terrific songwriting and inspired ensemble playing.
Small Miracles captures the magic that happens between musicians who have been playing together for years. In Blue Rodeo’s case, the fire is stoked higher by keyboardist Bob Packwood, the most recent addition to the band.
Keeping in mind that Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor released solo albums last year, it’s impressive that each has come up with more great songs for Small Miracles. It’s easily their best album since Five Days in July, released in 1993.
From Cuddy, who keeps getting better at cranking out songs that have melodic and emotional hooks, we hear the breezy Summer Girls, the tear-jerker 3 Hours Away, the melodic Mystic River and the upbeat, C’mon, which has a perky thump that disguises the love-gone-sour edge of the lyrics. My favourite of Cuddy’s batch is the piano-laden This Town, the second single, a bittersweet ode to misplaced expectations and lost dreams that ultimately finds the will to keep trying.
Keelor, who has always provided the dark, adventurous counterpart to Cuddy’s tuneful country-pop songs, weighs in with some of the best songs of his career. That includes the jangly psychedelia of So Far Away, the harrowing It Makes Me Wonder and the stark and haunting Beautiful.
Keelor provides insight into the state of the band itself in his song Together.
Although a love song, there’s another layer of meaning in the first verse that could be applied to the creative relationship within the band: “We can fight and argue all night/And I’ll sing my blues/And you’ll sing yours too/Cause no one’s giving in/No one’s even listening.”
From what I’ve heard about Blue Rodeo, having six strong-willed musicians in one band can make for a creative clash. This song indicates they’re learning how to work out their differences.
— Lynn Saxberg, CanWest News Service
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Left to Right: Michael Boguski, Colin Cripps, Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor, Bazil Donovan, Glenn Milchem. Photo by Dustin Rabin.
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Left to Right (top): Michael Boguski, Colin Cripps, Bazil Donovan Left to Right (bottom): Greg Keelor Jim Cuddy, Glenn Milchem. Photo by Dustin Rabin.
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Left to Right: Bazil Donovan, Colin Cripps, Greg Keelor, Jim Cuddy, Glenn Milchem, Michael Boguski. Photo by Dustin Rabin.
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Left to Right: Colin Cripps, Bob Egan, Greg Keelor, Glenn Milchem, Bazil Donovan, Michael Boguski, Jim Cuddy. Photo by Dustin Rabin.
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