Blue Rodeo top themselves yet again

“You didn’t have to wait to come back here, you should have just come backstage.”

This is Greg Keelor’s declaration to me upon my greeting him post-show in Halifax, Nova Scotia this past Remembrance Day.

Less than a half-hour before, Keelor and his Blue Rodeo song writing partner Jim Cuddy finished an intimate, enthusiastically received acoustic performance where the duo previewed songs from their excellent new record “The Things We Left Behind” while also treating fans to a couple of older tracks.

The Halifax date marked the final stop of acoustic performances that took them from one Canadian coast to the other, the first time in their career that the duo had actually undertaken such an initiative in their 25+ years together.

“No worries, Greg,” I assure him. “It’s very nice to see you again.”

“How is your little family doing?” he asks almost immediately.

“Great,” I say. “We had a daughter born this past June so that’s a boy and a girl we have now. We’re all set!” I smile.

“You’re so happy in your little love bubble, aren’t you?” he smiles. “That is excellent news.”

Ever since finding my way backstage at a Blue Rodeo show in Moncton in 1994, I am proud to be able to call these fine musicians friends; a moment like the one above that I shared with Keelor reinforces that feeling ten-fold. If one of the longest-running and most celebrated bands in Canadian music history should have superstar attitudes and not take the time to interact with their audience, somebody obviously forgot to send the memo to the guys in Blue Rodeo.

Even at the Moncton post-show meet and greet on their current national tour, I am warmly greeted by Blue Rodeo drummer Glenn Milchem who sits and chats with myself and others at my table for much longer than he truly needs to. Before long, singer Jim Cuddy joins us at our table.

“Hi Ken,” he greets me, shaking my hand. “Nice to see you again.”

Amidst general chit-chat, the conversation at our table somehow takes a turn towards 80’s pop bands. One of my friends has the pleasure of offering Cuddy a nice piece of music history: he shares with him the fact that UK comedian Ricky Gervais was once in an 80’s synth-pop band called Seona Dancing. After sharing a hearty laugh, Cuddy shakes the hands of all at the table and is off to greet others in the room.

A few days prior to the band’s show in Moncton, I was fortunate enough to get some phone time with Cuddy where we had the opportunity to discuss the group’s fantastic new record a little more in depth.

The first time I heard Blue Rodeo’s newest record, it was immediately apparent that they had created something very special. I don’t consider any of their releases of the past 10 years to be throwaway quality by any stretch of the imagination, but they truly topped themselves in terms of song quality this time around. “The Things We Left Behind” is easily their most consistent record from start to finish since “The Days In Between” with nary a bad track among the record’s 16 songs.

“Leading up to this new record, Greg and I had quite a bit of writing time,” Cuddy begins over the phone line. “And when we got together, we realized that we each had quite a few songs and soon came to the realization that we couldn’t put all of these songs on one long record.

“We feel people kind of tune out around the 45-50 minute mark of a record anyway so once we decided to move ahead and make a double record, it took a lot of the pressure off us.”

Reminiscing about the acoustic tour that had undertaken in the late fall, Cuddy’s smile is audible through the phone line.

“The acoustic tour was such a blast,” Cuddy says. “We had never really done that before and it was fitting because many of these new songs started out as an acoustic skeleton so we felt as though the two of us could do these songs live.

“That tour was fun because on each of the dates, we had so much interaction with the audience and on this tour that we’re on now, it’s big and broad. We have the two string players that played on the record as well as Wayne Petti singing with us. So in a way, this tour brings us and the songs back to their full grandeur. It’s really the way that these songs deserve to be presented and it’s an incredible amount of fun.”

Once the band finally wraps up the Canadian leg of their touring in April, Cuddy says that he expects the group will dip down to the US for some springtime shows but will be returning to play festivals throughout Canada this coming summer.

If you haven’t been able to catch the band touring in support of “The Things We Left Behind”, I highly recommend taking in the show nearest to you. As one of Canada’s best live acts, the group fails to disappoint in concert.