How the pandemic helped bring Blue Rodeo back from the brink

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Jim Cuddy was three-quarters of the way through to his sixth solo record when his longtime music partner Greg Keelor ​​called him from his farm just outside Peterborough.

Blue Rodeo, the group that the two singer-songwriters have directed since 1984, was awaiting recording. Keelor ​​released their solo album, Share the Love, in 2020. They were still doing a few shows, but the band hadn’t released an album since 1000 Arms in 2016. Recording that album had been a bit laborious. and the tour to support him was particularly difficult for Keelor, whose tinnitus had become so severe that the ringing in his ears caused him to have debilitating migraines while he was on the road. He was in a dark place when he got home, unsure of what the future held for one of Canada’s most iconic bands.

So a few years passed and no studio session was planned. Then the pandemic struck, which only made the prospect of registration even more distant. So Cuddy was taken aback when Keelor ​​called her in early 2021 and suggested she make another Blue Rodeo record. Turns out he had used the pandemic downtime to recuperate and work independently at a studio in Cobourg, Ont., And had a lot of songs he wanted his partner to hear.

“I have no idea what Greg is doing in his crazy country world,” Cuddy says, in an interview with Postmedia. “He said, ‘I’ll send you the songs.’ I don’t know if these will be death marches or if they will be rockabilly songs. I had no idea. So he sent me the songs and I said, ‘that’s great!’ He sent in a lot more songs than we recorded.

In fact, he sent over a dozen. Cuddy had also been in write mode for a year since the pandemic had made it impossible for her to play concerts with Blue Rodeo or the Jim Cuddy Band. He had taken refuge in his own rural property north of Toronto and had enjoyed a productive period of writing. Yet when he heard the breadth and volume of Keelor’s new material, he felt he had some catching up to do.

“I was really happy when I heard all of his songs,” Cuddy says. “I was also a bit overwhelmed. Greg is an atypical character and he sent me about fifteen songs. I didn’t hear from him originally, “Pick the ones you want.” I thought, ‘Do you want this all recorded? Are we doing 15 of your songs? ‘ Because I don’t think I can catch up.

This is how Many a Mile, Blue Rodeo’s 16th studio album, was born. Cuddy and Keelor ​​ended up cutting back on the latter’s contributions, and like every studio album since the band’s debut in 1987, the 12 songs are split fairly evenly between the two songwriters. But for the first time in the band’s history, the band’s leaders were never in the same room when the songs were recorded. Instead, Keelor ​​worked in Cobourg at her friend Jim Bowskill’s studio while Cuddy moved to a studio in Toronto with Blue Rodeo guitarist Colin Cripps. Later, the rest of the band – including bassist Bazil Donovan, drummer Glenn Milchem ​​and keyboardist Michael Boguski – were brought in one by one to replace the original parts of the demos.

“In our separate bubbles we combined and made a record and everyone was very gracious about it,” Keelor ​​said, in a separate interview with Postmedia. “I think there would have been a time in Blue Rodeo where replacing someone’s parts would have been unheard of. But because of COVID, everyone was anxious to make it work.”

The album, which comes out on December 3, certainly sounds like a vintage Blue Rodeo. The first song Keelor ​​recorded during those 2020 sessions with Bowskill was the melancholy folk song When You Were Wild, which also casts Many a Mile. Cuddy contributes some branded country ballads like All In Your Hands and catchy pop guitar gems like Never Like This Before and I Think About You. Keelor ​​offers the atmospheric Symmetry of Starlight and the Criticize garage-rocker. As with all Blue Rodeo records, the highlight is the perceptual harmonies between the two leads. Longtime fans might find it a little odd that those sparkling, tuned vocals were achieved when the two singers were miles apart. But singing together has become second nature to Keelor ​​and Cuddy.

“We’ve been singing harmonies together since 1978,” says Keelor. “So we don’t really have to be in the same room anymore to know what the other is going to do. When I had his songs, to sing in the background, it was such a joy. Because I love to sing and I love to sing with Jim Cuddy.

As for the rest of the group, this unusual recording mode actually meant that each musician had more freedom and time to focus on their parts, a rarity in the world of Blue Rodeo.

“Each player has their own day,” says Cuddy. “They focused 100% and that never happens. Usually, in a group, we move quickly, we try to have the atmosphere. Someone like the drummer or the keyboardist wants to change something and we always turn it down and say, “Keep going, it will be fine.” This time they could do whatever they wanted. So I think the individual musicians were quite happy.

While this record may have found Blue Rodeo coming back from the brink to some extent, neither Cuddy nor Keelor ​​seem willing to speculate on the band’s long-term future. With 16 albums and four decades of music accumulated, Cuddy says “there must be a very special impulse to make a new record,” but adds that the joy of making music together never seems to fade. New material is therefore always possible. For now, the band will continue to perform live, but those exhausting long tours are probably a thing of the past.

“We can’t do it like we used to do,” Keelor ​​says. “You go back 20 years, we did 250 nights a year all over the world. It was just absurd. But you are young, ambitious and resilient. You are having fun and there is also great misery. From now on, it will be spaced. It will be 20 or 30 shows spaced over a long period of time with days off between me to rest my old melon.

Many a Mile will be released on December 3 and the group will be in Calgary for a series of Canadian shows to support the record. They will play the Southern Alberta Jubilee on February 18-19, followed by Edmonton on February 22-23.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021


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