Funny how the success of Blue Rodeo isn’t measured in terms of how well they do in the States. The multi-Juno winners and Canadian Music Hall of Famers have been performing for three decades and do quite well for themselves in Canada, criss-crossing as they are currently are, with a stop at Oshawa’s TCC on Feb 11 2017 but there isn’t the same sense of ‘if only’ as there is around the Tragically Hip say. Neither band cares I imagine, about Billboard hits, red carpets or Grammys, they just do what they do and fans dig it or not.
Blue Rodeo, (now founding members Greg Keelor, Jim Cuddy and Basil Donovan, new guy Glenn Milchem on drums (joined in 1990), guitarist Colin Cripps who joined them a few years back and Michael Boguski on piano who came in around ten years ago), just keep digging in the country, drawing inspiration from the roots and harvesting the fruits of melodies stretching back to when the first fiddler fiddled his way into the hearts of well worn settlers.
The Blue Rodeo sound settles in on the back of traditional folk melodies and the immaculate Keelor/Cuddy harmonies but there is a whole lot of pub rock in there too. The duo did come out of Toronto’s Queen St. punk scene after all, ultimately finding their voice in what we now call Americana but we all know is really Canadiana.
While the band hasn’t ventured too far out of their groove they have not been resting on their collective guitars. Sure a concert is always going to have Cuddy testing his uppers on Try and Keelor banging out a metal-on-metal crashing guitar solo on Lost Together but they have consistently released album after album of on-the-spot song writing that always seems to say something honest, real and authentic about their lives and in their personal stories we hear ours. There has never been a sense that the albums have been phoned in regardless of how one rates them in the Blue Rodeo line-up (of course Five Days in July is #1, that’s just a given.)
Even an album such as The Things We Left Behind, from 2009, rates high, not too many bands have been able to churn out such consistently good volume over three decades. It could be due to the band’s disregard for popularity and Grammys and Billboards. They are not chasing fans, they make their own.
Their latest album 1000 Arms is just as strong as anything they have dropped before. The band, with members in their 60s, are still quite capable of churning out a back bar rocker, ‘Superstar’ for instance or ‘Rabbit Foot’, even if the tempo is somewhat slower than their debut hits, 'Heart Like Mine' or 'Jokers Wild', but the grizzled snarl and hockey stare is still there. Don’t mess with these puck handy punks.
Within Blue Rodeo there is the tension of the hockey dad persona of Cuddy and the hot darkness of Keelor which gets played out over the course of every album. On 1000 Arms Keelor once again airs out his darker views on relationships and his stories around intense melancholic lovers, they make an appearance on the soft slider, ‘Mascara Tears’, “It’s a curse, your sympathy and faith, you never hesitate to forgive."
Cuddy is and has been the advocate, the seeker, searching for and finding solace in the slightest of human gestures. On the title track he sings, “But all the cops, they know about her/ she has so many friends around her/ that when she’s feeling sick and down/ there’s a thousand arms to bring her back around”.
The album title comes from the band’s faith in their own community, one they grew out of and one they have nurtured over thirty years; acts like the Skydiggers, The Sadies, Cuff The Duke, Ron Sexsmith, Kathleen Edwards, Sarah McLachlan, Cowboy Junkies, Whitehorse, Crash Vegas,The Hip, Sarah Harmer, Ladies of the Canyon, Great Big Sea.
Those thousand arms symbolize the thousands more they rely on, the thousands more who will carry them across the country and while there a few surprises at a Blue Rodeo concert perhaps Cuddy or Keelor will see all those raised arms as an opportunity to crowdsurf like the young punks they once were. Going by the songs on this new album, it seems they still are. My money's on Cuddy to jump in the pit first.