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.)
It’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.