nowhere to here

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – Tremolo (1997)


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

Part 132: Tremolo


One of the perks to working at a record store was taking first crack at anything that came into the store.  Frequently, people who worked other record stores would sell us their promos, and often we’d happily buy them, especially when they preceded the actual album.

In spring 1997, Blue Rodeo released their next album, Tremolo.  Some guy from another chain sold us a promo copy several weeks before its release date.  Me being a big Blue Rodeo fan, I made sure we snagged it.  We couldn’t really sell promos on the shelves, but I knew several people who’d want a copy, if I didn’t take it myself.  It was just a simple black and white sleeve, so I didn’t offer much for it.

I eaglerly put it into the player.  Their last album, the experimental Nowhere To Here, was a hard one to love but it became one of my favourites.  I was surprised to hear that Tremolo was nothing like it.  I gave it a couple spins in store but it wasn’t doing anything for me.  Nah, I could live without it, I thought, at least until the original release.  Then I’ll try ‘er again.

I called up Bethany, one of our best customers, and massive Blue Rodeo fan.  She came in immediately to pick it up.  Even though us record store guys usually prefer an official release to a promo, Bethany preferred the promo.  Not only was it weeks in advance and cheaper, she considered it to be a collector’s item, so it worked out for everyone!

Eventually the real thing came out, and when a cheap used one came in, I bought it and took it home.  It still didn’t click.  It took several months to really grow on me, but by winter it finally had.  Like an onion, I had peeled the layers and uncovered the beauty within.  Tremolo, like Nowhere To Here, was far from immediate for me.  Its acoustics and almost complete lack of anything electric or uptempo had thrown me for a loop.  But somehow during that laid back winter of  ’98, Tremolo and I saw I to eye, and we have been companions ever since.

Lesson:  Albums must always be listened to over time, in different contexts, before abandoning!

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.