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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

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – “Til I Am Myself Again” (cassette single)

BLUE RODEO – “Til I Am Myself Again” (1990 cassette single)

From my years at the record store, I’ve seen scores of copies of this single on CD.  It has four tracks, all album tracks.  The cassette single on the other hand was something special.  It had a unique bonus track called “5 Day Disaster” that (so far as I know) was exclusive to the cassette format.

In 1990, (Casino era) Blue Rodeo had gone down the road of simpler, short pop-country-rock songs, and “5 Day Disaster” is one of these.  It’s a peppy, uptempo Jim Cuddy blaster with an unforgettable chorus.  It has strong upfront keyboards by Bobby Wiseman, including a piano solo.

The A-side was of course one of Blue Rodeo’s biggest early hits.  It too is a short poppy Jim Cuddy song.  Both songs are credited to the duo of Greg Keelor/Jim Cuddy.  It should be assumed that both songs were also produced by Pete Anderson, although the credits on “5 Day Disaster” are not clear, they both sound cut from the same cloth.

Cassette single tracklist:  Side A:  “Til I Am Myself Again” / Side B:  “5 Day Disaster”

CD single (not shown in photos) tracklist:  1. “Til I Am Myself Again”   2. “What Am I Doing Here”  3. “Rebel”  4. “Diamond Mine”

4/5 stars

(NOTE:  A few months after posting this review, Blue Rodeo reissued “5 Day Disaster”, now titled “5 Day Disaster Week”, on their excellent 1987-1993 box set!  Thanks guys!)

Note that I have the US version of Casino below.  Notice the different logo from the cassette?  In the US they were still using the Diamond Mine logo!