STORY WRITTEN CHRIS CAMERON
For Digital First Media
Alt-country rockers Blue Rodeo formed in Toronto, Canada more than 30 years ago. Since that time the band has sold over four million albums, won multiple Juno awards, been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, been named to the Order of Canada, and have been honored with the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award.
In short, they’re treated like music royalty north of the border. In the states, their music hasn’t achieved the recognition it deserves.
“The US for us is like a little boutique market,” co-lead singer and songwriter, Jim Cuddy said. “We have a very loyal following in cities like Philadelphia, but we don’t get down very often. We feel it’s important to play some of these cities for our fans. We’re a band and we’re meant to be seen and heard.”
It has been over six years since their last performance in the area. Their US dates begin on Nov. 14 with a performance at the Ardmore Music Hall.
The band’s sound is led by the voices of Cuddy and co-lead singer and songwriter Greg Keelor, with bassist Bazil Donovan, drummer Greg Milchem, keyboardist Michael Boguski, and guitarist Colin Cripps rounding out the group.
On their new release, “1000 Arms,” Cuddy and Keelor delve into their signature sound by singing together through harmonies and call and response. This is their 14th studio album and was co-produced and engineered by Tim Vesely, a founding member of the Rheostatics.
“Tim said we should sing more together and we were surprised because we thought we did that,” Cuddy said. “But in retrospect what we did naturally on our early albums we moved away from because we had done it so much. But a big part of the personality of the band has been the sound of Greg’s and my voice together.”
The title track of the album was inspired by a podcast that Cuddy had listened to about the importance of community.
“It was not meant to be biographical, it was imaginative,” he said. “The reason that the song resonated with the band and became the title track was due to the challenges that the musical community in Canada has faced this year.”
Blue Rodeo was one of several Canadian rock bands to get its start in the mid-80s. Their contemporaries, Spirit of the West and The Tragically Hip both suffered major setbacks this past year with Spirit of the West playing their final shows due to lead singer John Mann’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The Tragically Hip toured across Canada this year in what many called their final shows since news of lead singer Gord Downie’s diagnosis with terminal brain cancer.
“These events made us think about how close we’ve been and how much we feel for each other,” Cuddy said. “We’re not a huge musical community in Canada and the bands that started when we did came from a much different musical landscape. There was very little homegrown domestic talent when we started. We were the first generation of Canadian artists who were totally accepted and nurtured by domestic audiences.
“So this past year has been heartbreaking to either play final shows with these guys or witness final shows. It makes you think about mortality, but to witness the outpouring of love for both John and Gord has been very reassuring to know that there’s such a close-knit musical arts community here.”
When the band set out to write and record “1000 Arms” they ended up harkening back to a former version of themselves, capturing the alt-country sound they’ve become known for with steel guitar, mandolin, organ, harmonica, and lots of guitar.
“One of the things that has always appealed to us about this music is that there’s no time stamp on it,” Cuddy said. “There’s a mature clarity that I appreciate about our music.”
Critics have tried to compare Blue Rodeo’s sound to other artists from the Eagles to Wilco to the Flying Burrito Brothers. Blue Rodeo, however, is a sound all its own. For over 30 years the band has taken the road less travelled and succeeded on their own terms.