Which band represents Canada the most? At one time it was The Guess Who scrapping with The Band for the number one position. Rush then claimed the title and in later years wrestled with The Tragically Hip for claim to the throne. With both The Hip and Rush gone – one band owns the right to be Canada’s ambassadors. Blue Rodeo.
If you think of music in Canada on a broader scale than just it’s big cities, two things come to mind. Beer and acoustic guitars. Toss a Harmonica into the mix along with a lot of people jamming and keeping beats by banging on whatever is handy, an image appears shaped in the form of a Maple Leaf .
Blue Rodeo proved last night in Montreal they are the bunch of guys jamming. They just happen to have a few hits in their catalogue to pay the bills. Few musicians within a band gel the way Blue Rodeo do. Feeding off one another and continually raising the energy and musicianship to another level. Mandolins, acoustic guitars,pianos,electric guitars,organs – Blue Rodeo play them all.
Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor are the Canadian versions of Jagger and Richards. No Cuddy is not all of a sudden prancing around half naked enticing men and women with gyrating hips. Keelor doesn’t walk the stage like a marionette held up by strings teetering like a Weeble. The pair’s songwriting prowess barely touches the unprecedented catalogue of The Glimmer Twins. Cuddy and Keelor mirror The Stones duo in personalities. Canada’s favorite duo are opposite of each other. Jim the guy to bring home to Mom and Greg – the guy Mom brings home following a night at a bar. Everytime Keelor speaks, you get the feeling Cuddy thinks: “Oh, oh!” Each time Jim speaks – Keelor is close by ready to somehow counter a nice story or kind words with negativity. Cuddy opens the red door, Keelor paints it black.
This dynamic (whether real or contrived) – is what makes Blue Rodeo work. The upbeat tempos garnished with meloncholy. The kids party and suddenly a hooker shows up. Much like Keith Richards – Keelor’s persona is not as gruff as it appears. His vocals easily undress the souls of ‘the punters’. His songwriting allows people in. Combined with Cuddy’s fantastic vocals and equally skilled songwriting – it’s a perfect balance which arrives in a complete package.
Arguably the greatest Rock double album of all time is Exile on Main Street by The Rolling Stones. It is considered as one of the best due to all the different genres contained with in. Gospel, Rock, Country, Blues and Americana. One of the reasons this collection of songs is so profound is Jagger and Richards surrounded themselves with a collection of some of the best musicians in studio. The album was essentially late night jams with guests coming and going. So many players came and went – most are not in the linear notes because nobody can match the names and the songs they played on. Cuddy and Keelor also surround themselves with the best of the best. Thankfully – they do know their names.
Mike Boguski on organ, piano and accordion. His solos on all three are a crowd pleasing tour in itself. Filling in the Cuddy / Keelor compositions which so much space and grace. Grabbing the spotlight yet not taking anything from the song. Jimmy Bowskill on pedal steel, mandolin and guitar. The touch and feel. Ingredients to compliment and make even Keelor smile. Basil Donovan. The rock,the unflinching bassist. The man who keeps the Blue Rodeo train from derailing and one of the best bass players in Canada. Colin Cripps. ‘The presence’. The guitarist who ‘steals’ the show when called upon. Some guitarists have feel yet Colin is feel as he injects both rythym and lead with class and power. Glenn Milchem – the engine who a times is pure monster. The magical element of Blue Rodeo often overlooked. Metronomes are essential behind the kit. When the steadiness is not raped by fills and rolls and satisfaction is an understatement – the rest of the band can do their jobs with a glance toward growth.
Guess who are Canada’s ambassadors? Don’t rush – the answer will come. If you believe the band is Blue Rodeo then you are; tragically hip.