The number 13 is proving to be lucky for Canadian roots-rock band Blue Rodeo. In the year since they last performed in Moncton as a part of their 25th anniversary tour, the group released their 13th studio album, In Our Nature.
In the week after its release this past fall, the record debuted in the No. 2 position on Canada’s national sales chart, marking the band’s highest chart number. It also gave the group, performing at Casino New Brunswick this Thursday night, their biggest one week sales.
A couple of months following the album’s release, as 2013 wound to a close, it was announced that Blue Rodeo’s primary songwriters Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor had been named to the Order of Canada by Governor General David Johnston. The deserved honour in no surprise g considering the cultural impact that the duo’s songs have had upon the Canadian landscape.
Although the group has been making records for more than two and a half decades, band members chose to take a different path when it came to the making of In Our Nature. The making of the record was broken up by last year’s Silver Anniversary tour. Rather than this impeding the making of the record, the group used the tour to road test and refine a few of their new songs before they permanently committed them to the final product.
“Even though there was a concern about breaking the rhythm of recording, it also gave us the opportunity to perform a lot of the new songs during the sound checks of the anniversary tour,” Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy says. “Having the opportunity to give the songs a big, full airing is always a good thing. What bringing those songs out on tour did was help us realize which ones might have needed a softer touch, which songs could handle more of the full band but also which ones we got just right.”
Recorded at Keelor’s farm in rural Ontario, Jim admits to initially being a little reluctant to make In Our Nature outside of the group’s typical recording studio. While the group found tremendous success making their landmark album Five Days In July at Keelor’s farm, the making of 1995’s underrated Nowhere To Here at the same location was a less positive experience.
“Making this new album was the first time we had made a record at Greg’s farm since Nowhere To Here,” Jim says. “I approached the whole situation with a lot of trepidation because, by making the record there, it felt as though it was taking away a lot of control from me. We actually talked about it quite extensively because I wanted to know what the safe word was if I wasn’t feeling it and wanted to go back downtown to record,” he laughs.
Looking back, Jim realizes his concern was all for nought. By living together at Greg’s farm to make the album, he says that the group found a cohesion that might not have been present had they been heading off to their respective homes at the end of each recording session.
“Working at Greg’s farm when it is nice outside is totally different than working there over the winter. Working in nice weather and being able to have the doors and windows open really made the difference. In the fall of 2012, we essentially worked at making the record until we weren’t able to eat outside anymore and then returned last spring to complete the album.”
If the only constant in life is change, Blue Rodeo is well acquainted with the notion. The reinvigorated group has now officially expanded to be a seven-piece group. In addition to the Cuddy-Keelor partnership and long-time rhythm section of Bazil Donovan and drummer Glenn Milchem, Blue Rodeo is rounded out by pedal steel player Bob Egan and keyboardist Michael Boguski. The latest addition to the group’s ranks comes in the form of guitarist Colin Cripps. Although their friendship with Cripps dates back to the early ’90s, the group brought him out on last year’s anniversary tour as an additional electric guitarist.
“Ultimately, Greg (Keelor) needed to be relieved of his electric guitar duties and so bringing Colin on board full-time just made sense,” Jim says. “I think all of us are very comfortable with what Colin brings to the band. His style of guitar playing fits in well with the band but he has also brought a third voice to the group. Plus, he is just such a nice guy.”
Opening Blue Rodeo’s show on Thursday night will be The Devin Cuddy Band. As you might have already figured out, Devin is indeed Jim’s son, helping make the In Our Nature tour a bit of a family affair.
Asked whether Devin has been asking his advice with respect to getting his music career off the ground, Jim says that Devin learned much about the business on his own. In other words, Jim is not helicopter-parenting his son’s burgeoning music career.
“On a business level, Devin’s band is the right band to be opening this tour,” he says. “They have been across the country and so people know of them but haven’t necessarily heard them. Because our audience is so supportive and is interested in seeing what Devin is doing, he has been playing to full houses, which is great. And on a personal level, I love having him on tour. He has known the guys in Blue Rodeo for his whole life so there is a nice camaraderie among everybody on the tour.
“Ultimately though, I’ve learned that Devin is not looking for advice. He is very observant, knows what is happening and what it takes to make a band work,” Jim says.
What: Blue Rodeo with special guests The Devin Cuddy Band
When: Thursday Feb. 6, 8:00 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
Article published in the February 4, 2014 edition of the Times & Transcript