alt country

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – “Diamonds in the Rough” / Demos and Other Stuff….. (1989)

BLUE RODEO – “Diamonds in the Rough” / Demos and Other Stuff….. (1989 Atlantic promo EP)

Here’s the funny thing about “Holy Grail” records.  Most of the time, you don’t even know they exist until you find one!

Blue Rodeo is one of those bands for whom I collect “everything”.  Their box set filled a lot of gaps, but I am still missing a few things.  To the Discogs!

I was searching for one of the Blue Rodeo Live in Stratford albums.  There are two; I only have one, and it’s excellent.  While searching for that live album, I found this promo EP instead, at a good price and in great condition.  Upon reading the tracklist, it contained four Blue Rodeo tracks I didn’t have and didn’t know existed!

1989’s Diamond Mine is still considered one of the band’s greatest albums today, if not #1.  The “God and Country” demo that leads off Diamonds in the Rough is an acoustic rendering of one of its best songs.   “How Long” is a fully arranged demo, sounding live off the floor.  Since this record was cut for radio stations to play, it’s quite possible that you heard these versions at some point in early 1989.  I hadn’t, and neither is included in the box set.  Of course they don’t have the production value of the full album, but that’s part of the appeal of collecting rarities like this.

Side one closes with a live version of “Outskirts”, also not on any Blue Rodeo album.  However this version of “Outskirts” is from another “Holy Grail” promo, The Live CFNY Concert.  That record is a double and still out my reach, so this energetic live cut will have to do for now.  (I mean, I could buy it right now…but the copy in the condition I want is almost $100.)

Side two has the single edit of their big hit “Diamond Mine”.  The album cut is 8:18, full of psychedelic organ solos and Doors-like jamming.  A shorter single edit of this song is always handy, and you can’t get it on their Greatest Hits CD. It’s similar if not identical to the music video version.

As if all of the above wasn’t enough to make this promo a worthy “Holy Grail” item, there are two unreleased demos for songs that never made it onto the Diamond Mine album!  “Galveston” is a cover of the Jimmy Webb song made famous by Glen Campbell.  Blue Rodeo’s version is manically fast, with Jim Cuddy’s sweet voice maintaining what made the song special.  Finally it’s “Jig”, an acoustic instrumental with Bobby Wiseman on concertina. This is little more than an idea of a song rather than something fully written.  Regardless, these two unreleased goodies go to prove what a band of musicians Blue Rodeo is, particularly Wiseman and bassist Bazil Donovan, possibly the country’s greatest bass player on this side of Geddy Lee.

If this record only had “Galveston” as its sole rarity, it would be still be a Holy Grail item.  As it turns out, none of these tracks can be found on a Blue Rodeo CD today, so it really justifies its own purchase!

5/5 stars

 

 

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Part 240: Lemon Kurri Klopek – Living the Dream! (On the road with Steve Earle)

RECORD STORE TALES Part 240:

Lemon Kurri Klopek – Living the Dream!  (On the road with Steve Earle)

I immediately liked Lemon Kurri upon meeting him.  I was introduced to LK (who also goes by the excellent real name of Mike) as our newest franchise owner and fellow Kiss fan.  I spent a lot of hours training him, and he was one of the best people I met through the record store.  He was easy to work with, and genuinely appreciated my help.  One thing I will always remember, is that Lemon Kurri and his business partner Greg sent me notes of thanks for my help, and even cool records or CDs that I wanted.  It was Lemon Kurri who gave to me a treasured copy of Bruce Dickinson’s 12″ single for “All the Young Dudes”.  He also gave me Thin Lizzy’s “Gary Moore album”, Black Rose: A Rock Legend for my birthday one year.

When I eventually left the company, Lemon Kurri was supportive of my decision.  We stayed in touch and remained friends.  Two years later, LK himself moved on to new horizons.  I’m pleased to report that he is now living the dream, working for one of my own idols, Mr. Steve Earle himself.  Lemon Kurri is Steve’s “Merch Guy” and “unofficial drum tech” today.  He travels the world, and gets to hear one of the true greats playing at night.  Hard work but somebody has to do it.

Lemon Kurri has given me permission to share with you a selection of snaps of his life on the road with Steve Earle.  Enjoy.  Each picture tells a story!  Click a pic to enlarge and read the description.  Thanks letting me use these photos, Mike!

Part 228: The Phone

RECORD STORE TALES Part 228: The Phone

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Boring conversation anyway.

I has been a long time since I’ve had to answer the phone at the record store. As long as it’s been, sometimes I still find myself answering my phone at work, and it just happens: “Good afternoon, [name of record store].”  I’ve stumbled over that a couple times before realizing what I’ve said!

Every time it happens (like today), it takes me right back in time!  The memories flood in all at once.

There were several ways we were supposed to answer the phones at the record store. “Good afternoon, [name of store]” was the main one. Our boss used to answer the phone with “good afternoon” no matter what time it was. 10 am: “good afternoon”. 8 pm: “good afternoon”. I used to tease him about that.

Later on when we got more locations, we changed the phone greeting to, “Good afternoon, [name of store], [address of store].” This was done for customers who were too confused to figure out which location they had just dialed. Although that didn’t stop one guy, who went on an extended cuss-infested tirade because I didn’t have his special order…even though he called the wrong store! You can’t fix stupid.  (This story was recounted back in Part 104: A Nightmare on Cocknuckles Street.)

At Christmas we’d do other variations of the greeting. I personally enjoyed “Merry Christmas, [name of store]” because I for one don’t like “Happy Holidays”. The name of the date on the calendar is Christmas, whether you celebrate it or not, you still get a stat holiday like everyone else.  Happy Holidays my arse.

Tom came up with a few interesting greetings. “Happy Ho Ho, [name of store]” was a good one. Another time he answered “[Name of store], Santa’s little rock shop.” He tried to have fun with it.

Still, the worst answering of the phone that ever happened was on my watch.  It was a busy night, and some kid asked to use the phone for a moment.  We usually obliged such requests, instructing the person to be quick.  Well I turned my back for a moment on this kid, and next thing I knew he had walked halfway across the store with the phone and was having a whole conversation.  I made my way out to retrieve the phone, but it was too late.  The kid had a “call waiting” and answered the store phone for us.

“Hello?  Uhhh, hold on.”  Then he finally acknowledged me.  “It’s for you.”

Idiot!

R.I.P. James Gray

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R.I.P. James Gray ex-Blue Rodeo, ex-Rheostatics, 1960-2013.  I saw him live in concert a few times, and he was great.  It’s hard to replace a character like Bobby Wiseman, but I think James did an excellent job.

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – Palace of Gold (17 track Rounder version)

BLUE RODEO – Palace of Gold (2002 Rounder version with 3 bonus tracks)

After the disappointing (to me) The Days In Between, Blue Rodeo did the long-awaited Greatest Hits dealio.  Then they did something unexpected, and added horns to the mix on a couple new tracks. That carried over to the Greatest Hits tour, where they added that same horn section to old classics like “Diamond Mine”. I remember the trumpet player executed a killer solo during that song when I saw them live in Stratford Ontario.  They do an annual winter show there, in the round, at the Festival.

Palace of Gold is the album that followed this experimentation.  Horns and strings are added to a good number of songs. The end result was a rejuvenated Blue Rodeo, more happy-go-lucky in general this time out, sounding excited to be playing again.

The opening track “Palace of Gold” is a Greg rocker with some floaty catchy keys from James Gray. Glenn Milchem’s drums propel the song forward excitedly. This is followed by a cool mid-tempo song called “Holding On” that reminds me of the flavour Jim’s first solo album. “Holding On” is not only catchy, traditional Blue Rodeo, but also contains some of Jim’s trademark heartfelt lyrics.

Some tasty mandolin work introduces Greg’s “Homeward Bound Angel”, another uptempo track. Horns are introduced here for the first time on Palace of Gold.  By my reckoning, this is now three oustanding songs in a row.  This is just a preface to “Bulletproof”, aka “the album’s big hit”.  It’s a torchy ballad as Jim is loved for. It’s not as immediate as  previous ballads like “Try” or “After the Rain”, but after a few listens, it’s sunk in.  The arrangement is backed by lush strings.

A taste of reverb intruduces “Comet”, the first song that I find below the high standard already set. It is a trippy psychedelic Greg tune, with what sounds like therimin and strings. I’m just not keen on this one.  I find it less exciting than other similar concepts from Greg, such as “Girl In Green”.

Swift punky chords are soon followed by deep fat horns.  This is Jim’s “Walk Like You Don’t Mind”, another highlight, only bettered by Bazil Donovan’s bouncy basslines.  It’s a Blue Rodeo rave-up.  This is the kind of sound I love from them, especially live.

“Love Never Lies” is highlighted more strings, but this Jim ballad sounds melodically similar to the previous”New Year’s Day” from his solo album. One of my favourite songs is track 8, “Stage Door”. Greg’s lyric always inspires hoots and hollars from the crowd:

Ain’t no mystery, what I need,
is understanding and your sweet sympathy,
A steel string guitar and a little weed,
N’ someone to keep me company.

The arrangement contains both strings and horns, and of all the songs on this album, “Stage Door” amalgamates these instruments most successfully.  (Live, I’ve heard Bazil Donovan take the lead vocal on this song — he was once arrested for possession.  The charges were dropped.)

PALACE OF GOLD_0002It’s hard to follow a song like that. I’m not in love with the next song, Jim’s “Cause for Sympathy”. The verses are dull to me, although it does boast a very nice chorus where both Jim and Greg sing together. Likewise, I usually snooze through the following track, the 60’s-sounding “What A Surprise”, sung by Greg.

“Clearer View”, a Jim Cuddy contribution, returns the album to high standards of outstanding songcraft.  It’s a much needed shot in the arm, a driving song with the perfect horn section. Glenn Milchem’s drumming is rock solid but also propels the song forward like rocket fuel, especially during the chorus

The album slides back again into sleepy-land on Greg’s “Glad to be Alive”. This dreamy song ise a slide guitar-laden lullaby. Jim’s “Find a Way to Say Goodbye” is a ballad but has some punchy horns during the chorus, that are quite tasty. The final song is yet another snoozer from Greg Keelor called “Tell Me Baby”. I think unfortunately that Palace of Gold slides a bit at the end, and contains so many slow songs right at the finish line.

Fortunately there is a US edition of this album on Rounder Records that contains an additional three songs. These kick the album back up a notch at the end. They are are live tunes, and only one is a ballad! “The Railroad”, a Lee Hazelwood cover, is a blast. “Bad Timing” is of course one of Jim’s most classic ballads of all time, so we’ll let that one slide. The final track is another rock n’ roller, “You’re Everywhere” (from the Casino album).  They close the album in style.

If you can get the 17 track version as opposed to the 14 track, I think you are in for a much better listening experience.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – Tremolo (1997)

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BLUE RODEO – Tremolo (1997 Warner)

I first saw Blue Rodeo live in July 1991, just after highschool graduation.  Instant fan!  I saw them again in 1996 and 1998, supporting Nowhere To Here and Tremolo, respectively.  Both albums grew on me tremendously after I saw the show.  Before that, I struggled with them a bit, not quite liking them, not quite disliking them, and not wanting to give up on them.  Funny how that goes.  I rate them today in my top 3 Blue Rodeo albums, along with Five Days in July.

Tremolo requires your complete attention, this is not background music, although it will still sound great in the background. This is one of those deeper albums, one that needs multiple listens.  I find it reveals different faces when I listen to it in different settings as well.  The cottage is better than the car, for example.  For me.

Nowhere To Here and Tremelo, albums #6 and #7, both originated at the same time as Five Days.  The recent Blue Rodeo box set, 1984-1993 contains early different versions of “Moon & Tree” and “No Miracle No Dazzle”.  Tremolo is much like a brother record to Nowhere To Here, an acoustic brother record. They both share the same laid back origins, the same jammy style and meandering arrangements. They also share the same lineup which was my favourite: Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor, Bazil Donovan, Glenn Milchem, keyboardist James Gray and pedal steel player Kim Dechampes.

Most songs are mellow, laid back, spare in arrangement and very acoustic. At times, this is also the most “country” sounding of Blue Rodeo records. Witness Jim’s “Shed My Skin”, which is beautiful. “No Miracle No Dazzle” is an upbeat one from Greg, another awesome tune, while “Falling Down Blue” is for slow dancing.  All of these are loaded with spirit, be it Jim’s melancholy wordplay or Greg’s gleeful guitar playing.  All the players shine on this album, not necessarily as solosists (although that is often the case), but how they all mesh together.  The blend of instruments is flawless.

TREMOLO_0003I still think of albums as having a side one and a side two.  I had to tape Tremolo on a cassette so I could play it in the car back in ’97.  It’s “side two” of Tremolo that I really like.   “It Could Happen To You” was a popular upbeat Jim single that received a lot of airplay. “Dragging On” is an atmospheric Jim tune, with some beautiful watery keyboards backing it, with fantastic lyrics of heartbreak that only Jim can sing.  You left a hole in me, and the rain comes pouring in, sometimes I’m swept away…”

“Brother Andre’s Heart” and “Frogs’ Lullaby” work together as one Greg tune, quite extended and jammy, 12 minutes in total.  After a tune like that, they had to end it with a corker!  It’s the best song on the album as far as I’m concerned, and conspicuous by being so different:  “Graveyard”.

Well I love these nervous breakdowns,
And I love these new skins,
And I love that you were brave enough,
To sleep with all my friends.

Greg was pissed off at someone, lemme tell you, and this sounds like some kind of punk-a-billy song.

This album has 14 songs on it, and I’ve only talked about around half of them.  The rest of them are also great, but different songs will appeal to different people.  I wanted to talk about the ones that get me almost every time.  You might find that you really like a song like “Fallen From Grace” because it reminds you of the early Blue Rodeo country-blues vibe.

If you love Blue Rodeo, I consider this album a must. It’s not an instant pleasure, but it is a very rewarding listen.  It continues to reveal new layers of music and lyrical poetry to me today.  In my humble personal opinion, I don’t think Blue Rodeo ever attained this lofty standards again.

5/5 stars