Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor must be songwriting fools.
Ever since the first Blue Rodeo album surfaced out of Canada in 1987, barely two years have gone by when the two haven't composed a new album of songs for the band drenched in a plaintive country haze. Over the years, the two also have crammed in nearly a half-dozen solo recordings between them. The songwriting well with these guys clearly runs deep.
Such longevity has led to a vast and lasting audience in its native Toronto and throughout Canada. South of the Canadian border, though, Blue Rodeo maintains a more cultish following. And that's a serious shame.
One of the appeals in the songs of Cuddy and Keelor is their almost Beatle-esque distinction in style and temperament. Cuddy has the more overt pop and country tenor. Keelor reflects the grimier stuff that sends Blue Rodeo into post-psychedelic romps that keeps the band's modern country pop far afield of Eagles turf.
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In essence, Blue Rodeo has the Americana earnestness of Gram Parsons with a generous touch of British Invasion pop — except, of course, when their music willfully jumps the tracks and plows down a dark alley. Examine the title tune from 1989's Diamond Mine for proof.
A new Blue Rodeo opus hit Canada last fall and, with expectedly modest fanfare, the United States last week. The Things We Left Behind is a two-disc affair that allots plenty of room for all kinds of concise pop delicacies.
Leading the pack is One More Night, a shuffle sung by Cuddy and propelled by soul-savvy electric piano, a chorus full of killer hooks, beefy guitar twang, the pedal steel guitar colors of former Frankwater/Wilco journeyman Bob Egan and lyrics full of the sort of dark wanderlust that would make Hank Williams proud.
That's a lot to pack into a tune barely more than five minutes long. Not surprisingly, The Things We Left Behind affords Blue Rodeo some leg room for its seriously moody pieces. At the top of that list sits the nine-minute Million Miles, sung by Keelor with a deep acoustic melancholy that recalls late-'60s Byrds records but with a bittersweet folk-rock accent that also echoes less obvious inspirations— say, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.
There often is warmth to such wanderlust, but The Things We Left Behind is an album of unease and remorse. Arizona Dust, for instance, is full of summery vocals from Cuddy and has churchy strains of organ and pedal steel. But its sadness pervades, just as it should in any serious country song.
Shoot, this Rodeo ain't Blue for nothing, people.