BLUE RODEO – Just Like a Vacation / “Joker’s Wild” bonus track from Stardust Picnic (1999 Warner)
I spent a lot of days in the summer of 1999 working in the Record Store in Cambridge. That was T-Rev’s store, normally, but he was out of town. He was Ajax, I think, helping build our next franchise. T-Rev is handy so his role was, in theory, supposed to transition to building new stores full time. That never fully happened, which in a way was a good thing, because they never had a plan for filling T-Rev’s time slot as store manager in Cambridge! In the interim, they sent me there and I was responsible for managing two stores. Not the first time and certainly not the last time.
’99 was a great summer for double live albums. There were two in particular I played daily: Sloan’s 4 Nights at the Palais Royale, and Blue Rodeo’s Just Like a Vacation. Despite the added stress and mileage on the car, these two double live albums helped ensure that summer was hot and fresh with great music. Blue Rodeo are one of the greatest live bands I’ve seen and I had long been awaiting a full-on double CD set of the live concert experience.
Just Like a Vacation is the absolutely perfect document of the Blue Rodeo experience circa 1999. Hard edged and jamming, Blue Rodeo were at this time a mixture of country crooning and long noisy Neil Young jams. The set is taken from a variety of shows and assembled into a coherent running order. Perhaps the first track, the upbeat country of “Til I am Myself Again” was recorded in Stratford; Jim warns the crowd they may be snowed in that night, a common threat at the Stratford festival during their annual show there!
The first seven Blue Rodeo albums, from Outskirts (1987) to Tremolo (1997) are all essential listening. This live set is loaded heavy with some of the best songs from that era, from the tender Jim Cuddy ballads (“Try”, “After the Rain”, “Bad Timing”) to the more epic Greg Keelor blasts of power: “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”, “Diamond Mine”, “Girl in Green”. There’s country jazz (“Piranha Pool”), songs for singalongs (“Cynthia”) and even comedic stories of heartbreak (“Florida”). Jaw-dropping musicianship ensures there is never a dull moment. Even the slow dance hit ballad “After the Rain” boasts a long, noisy guitar jam at the end. Blue Rodeo are fearless on stage and this album delivers that.
Some fans noticed that earlier tracks from Outskirts such as “Rebel” and “Joker’s Wild” were seldom played as Blue Rodeo amassed more and more studio albums. Thanks to HMV, one bonus track is available to add to this live collection: “Joker’s Wild”, from their promotional Stardust Picnic Sampler CD. The back cover of the Stardust CD claims there was no room left for “Joker’s Wild” on Just Like a Vacation, but that’s not true. The first disc is under an hour, and the second is 1:07. Lots of room on either disc for a four minute bonus track! Regardless, here is “Joker’s Wild”, a rarity to be sure since it was never available for purchase. “Joker’s Wild” is done acoustically, very different from the original version. It transforms from a spy movie theme to a swampy jam with slide and fiddle.
Sure, you could go and buy a Blue Rodeo Greatest Hits CD with your hard-earned dollars. That’ll get you 14 songs; this’ll get you 22. Blue Rodeo songs are just as great live as they were in the studio, just different. You won’t have to suffer through a too-loud audience track, so get Just Like a Vacation instead and experience Blue Rodeo in the venue they were intended for — the stage. There are even liner notes with a story or two about every song. It’s a package to be enjoyed for a long period of time, and years later you will still smile.