five days in july

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – Daze In America (1995 promo EP)

BLUE RODEO – Daze In America (1995 Discovery Records promo CD)

Blue Rodeo have a number of promo-only releases of great value to fans.  There’s the The Live CFNY Concert for one.  “Diamonds in the Rough” / Demos and Other Stuff….. is another.  Perhaps the most superb of them was 1995’s Daze In America CD, including five live songs but never released to retail on any Blue Rodeo album or single.

The sextet were riding high with the triumphant Five Days In July album, a surprise hit recorded spontaneously in…well, five days.  An utter masterpiece, Five Days in July produced numerous classics that endured in setlists for decades.  “Head Over Heels” was one such track, an upbeat Jim Cuddy stomper with harmonica, mandolin, and the kitchen sink.  It’s the kind of Blue Rodeo track that gets people off their seats.  The version here is the studio cut, which is logical since it was one of the big singles they were promoting at the time.

“Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” is live in Omaha, and it emanates energy from the crowd.  “This ain’t nothing new to me, it’s just like going home,” sings Greg Keelor.  “It’s kinda like those sunsets that leave you feeling so stoned…”  Crowd roars.  Live, Jim Cuddy’s harmony line is more prominent.  Blue Rodeo’s best song, hands down.  And check out Bazil Donovan’s lyrical walking basslines and tell me he isn’t one of the best bass players in this great nation of ours!  Yes, “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” is a freakin’ gem, where every facet matters, and elevates the song further.

Jim’s bluest ballad, “Bad Timing” is received by quiet punctuated with screams.  If you see Blue Rodeo live, then you know this is a common reaction to Cuddy’s crooning, a country heartthrob if there ever was one.  “Bad Timing” is sentimental, beautiful, and soothing in its own pain.  The ultimate breakup song.  It’s just bad timing, that’s all.

Casino‘s “Til I Am Myself Again” brings us back to one of those upbeat Jim songs that people love to dance to.  Being seated during this song at a Blue Rodeo concert is not optional.  Often a set opener, this one kicks!  Laying back a bit, “Rain Down on Me” was another big hit, this time from Lost Together.  The size of the chorus, a big huge cumulus, is one reason why it is so beloved.  The pedal steel guitar solo by Kim Deschamps is outstanding.  Then “Last To Know” is another Jim ballad, but with a monolithic chorus.

Ex-Andy Curran drummer Glenn Milchem is all over “Trust Yourself”, a real bolder-buster of a tune.  It was always a bit of a jam, but live it just explodes from all its bounds.   Then it descends in a two minute outro of solos and jamming.  Blue Rodeo are one of the best live bands you’ll ever see, and this track shows why.

A great promo EP, somewhat rare, but worth the extra few bucks for these rare recordings.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – Nowhere To Here (1995)


BLUE RODEO – Nowhere to Here (1995)

This album, recorded during what I consider to be Blue Rodeo`s jammy psychedelic phase, is one of my favourites (it’s up there with Five Days and Tremelo, both of which are related). It isn’t an album to like instantly, but only through multiple listens.  It suddenly clicked with me after seeing the band play these songs  live.

This album began life during writing sessions in 1993, but the band was so inspired with some spontaneous new songs, they ended up writing and recording Five Days In July in, well…five days in July.  That albun was released first, and the band later returned to the other songs written during those sessions.

Five Days was a huge hit, so when Blue Rodeo  finally got back to making this album, the difference took fans by surprise.

(Some of the leftovers became the similarly jammy but acoustic Tremelo, such as  “Moon & Tree”, which was once more psychedelic and electric.)

When I  saw the band live on this tour, they blew me away. I hadn’t seen them live since  the 1991 Casino tour, so this was my first exposure to the new six-man lineup. Greg Keelor was on fire, playing gonzo Young-esque feedback-laden solos that  lasted up to five minutes. It was incredible. This album distills that kind of  sound down to 5 and 6 minute songs.

The first two tracks, “Save  Myself” and “Girl In Green” were not about to become hit singles, as both are slow and melancholy.  “Save Myself” is  painstakingly slow, much like Greg’s first solo album, while “Girl In Green” is  funky with a powerful, almost yelled chorus, backed by James Gray’s organ. Both  songs are winners to this listener, because they are completely uncommercial,  while retaining melody and tons of emotion.

Interestingly:  There was both a 12″ and promo CD single of “Girl In Green”, a rare trance-y “Space Knowledge” remix.  Very cool, very weird — I have both.

“What You Want” sounds a lot  more like traditional Rodeo, Jim’s first upbeat rocker of the album. Greg’s hit single “Side of the Road” is track 4, a moody 6-minute tour-de-force with an  incredible chorus and plenty of solos.

Like a one-two punch, Jim comes  back with “Better Off As We Are”, possibly the best song on the album, if not the best rock song that Cuddy’s ever written. I love Jim’s lyrics, conversations with his brother and recollections of young adulthood.

“Sky” slows things down a bit, a Jim ballad  with a slow tempo that sounds more like something from Greg territory. That ended side 1 of the original LP,
and side 2 began just as slowly with Greg’s “Brown-Eyed Dog”. Great chorus, with comotose  verses that may put the unprepared to sleep. Jim’s “Blew It Again” is a sad
ballad, lyrically similar to “Bad Timing”, but musically based on a catchy little piano line.

“Get Through To You” follows, which features Greg waking up and letting rip again with an uptempo rocker. This song, one of Greg’s best, is
kind of similar to Jim’s catchy tunes on side 1. Jim’s “Armour” is another plaintive ballad as only Jim can do, and perhaps should have been a single, as it
could have been a hit.

The album closes with two more slow ones, “Train”  and the 8 minute + “Flaming Bed”. These songs drone off into the distance, meandering lazily, like the hot humid July that spawned them.  This ends an album largely misunderstood as ignored but the general record buying public.  And a shame that is.

As you can see, this isn’t the light-hearted countryfied Blue Rodeo of  Casino or Outskirts.  Greg’s health problems (diabetes) coincided with  an interest in slowing things down, and that’s what this album is. It will either click with you, or it won’t, depending on the setting. Find the right  setting, however, and you will enjoy a surprising listening experience, full of depth and emotion, melody and lots of meandering jams.

I suggest listening during an evening, on the porch.  In July.

5/5 stars

Of note, if  there’s a third voice in the background thats sounds familiar, it should: It’s Sarah McLachlan.