On February 7, 2005, Blue Rodeo celebrated the twentieth anniversary of their first gig by returning to the scene of the crime (The Rivoli in Toronto) and gathering together the original five band members for one unforgettable night of nostalgia. In the twenty years since their first gig at The Rivoli, Blue Rodeo have sold millions of records, won countless awards and traveled the world time and time again while Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor have gained notoriety as two of Canada’s greatest songwriters (their names fit comfortably alongside those of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot). That night in February was a celebration of a band that has not only endured but flourished. Blue Rodeo are a band never afraid to embrace their past as they continue to forge a path towards their future.
Twenty years on and Blue Rodeo are set to release their tenth studio album, Are You Ready. The album title says it all and asks it all. If you take too much time to ask yourself “am I ready for what,” then the record might just hit you squarely between the eyes. Are You Ready delivers fans just what they are looking for, great songs with memorable melodies and remarkable musicianship.
The album’s twelve songs range from the Cuddy’s beautiful ode to his wife, “Rena” to Keelor’s rocking title cut. Keelor also contributes the song “Phaedra’s Meadow” which features a guest appearance from The Chieftain’s Paddy Moloney.
Are You Ready was produced by Blue Rodeo and Chris Shreenan-Dyck at The Woodshed, the recording studio the band built for themselves in downtown Toronto. The first record recorded at The Woodshed was 2002’s Palace Of Gold. The songs on Palace of Gold were driven by the Bushwhack Horns and included a ten-piece string section. In contrast, the newest album is much sparser in songwriting and execution.
“We had performed at a Gordon Lightfoot tribute and from that remembered how much we liked the sound of voices and acoustic guitars,” recalls Jim Cuddy. “We decided to go back and do more of an acoustic record. It didn’t turn out that way but our direction was set out.”
Greg Keelor picks up the thought and continues “We have our own studio and can take our time. The last record we indulged ourselves with horns and strings. We pulled way back this time.”
They may have pulled back on their indulgences but the 60’s soul that inspired the horns on Palace Of Gold can still be heard on the album’s opening cut, “Can’t Help Wondering Why.” In fact, Blue Rodeo is always ready to let all of their influences inspire them and they will not turn their back on what drives them forward - or what has brought them here.
With the sound of Bob Egan’s pedal steel guitar floating through many of the tracks, fans might think that the band has returned to its original country-rock roots. Indeed, the song “Beverley Street” was originally written for the band’s second album, Diamond Mine, and then forgotten until a local Toronto band played their own version (learned from a long-forgotten live bootleg) for Blue Rodeo’s Bazil Donovan who then reminded Jim and Greg about the song. The track fits in beautifully with the newly written material on the album.
Blue Rodeo will launch Are You Ready doing what they do best