Looking Back With Blue Rodeo

blue rodeoAMore than 25 years after the release of their debut effort Outskirts, Blue Rodeo remains one of Canada’s most beloved bands.

They have not, however, been in the habit of dwelling on past accomplishments; in the past 25 years, with 12 studio albums to their credit, they have only one greatest hits package, 2001’s appropriately titled Greatest Hits. The lack of retrospective releases is, in a way, testament to the band’s always-looking-forward mentality.

This past October, however, the group took the time to look back upon the first six years of their career with the release of their first box set compilation. Blue Rodeo: 1987-1993 is comprised of the group’s first five studio albums, but with a few worthy extras thrown in for good measure.

The Blue Rodeo box set includes remastered versions of their first five albums as well as a collection of outtakes and demos from the sessions leading up to the making of their 1990 album Casino. An exclusive disc of previously unreleased material is also included alongside a completely remixed version of their debut record Outskirts, which of course featured the group’s first hit “Try.”

Blue Rodeo vocalist-guitarist Jim Cuddy says that the impetus to assemble a box set at this point in their career was largely driven by his songwriting partner Greg Keelor.

“One of the primary motivations of the box set was remixingOutskirts,” Cuddy says from the group’s tour stop in Edmonton last week. “Greg had wanted to remix that record and get back to the naturalness of how the band sounded in those days. I don’t believe that any of us will forget the discovery of just how immediately right it felt when the five of us performed together.

“What (Outskirts producer) Terry Brown did for us was to make that record sound modern for the time. It wasn’t really the sound that we were connected to, though. Greg wanted to remix Outskirts to represent how the band sounded 250 times a year when we would play live.”

By his own admission, Jim says that if the group’s induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame last year was about reminding the band how far they have come in the past 25 years, the box set serves as the reminder of what each version of the band sounded like.

“Our first two records featured drummer Cleave Anderson and Bob Wiseman on keyboards, while on Casino, we had Mark French join the band on drums. Bob’s last record he made with the band was Lost Together, which is also the record where Glenn replaced Mark on drums. And of course Five Days In July is the record that opened up a landscape to us that we had never really allowed before.

“So, in listening to each of those records and looking back upon them, I feel that the band was trying to keep some continuity while also trying out different things. It was an interesting exercise to see these snapshots of what the band has sounded like through the years.”

Of course, much more music has been made by Blue Rodeo since 1993, when the group’s box set effectively cuts off. Jim says that while he won’t rule out the possibility of a second box set coming at some point in the future, the group will not be focusing their energy that anytime soon.

“If the box set represents a certain upward trajectory from Outskirts to Five Days In July, the eras that follow are more representative of the up and down reality that is a part of every band. I think it would be interesting to go back and revisit how we survived those years, but compiling a project like this takes a lot of work,” he says.

And so Blue Rodeo returns to looking to the future for the time being. Jim says that recording of the group’s 13th studio album began late last year at Keelor’s farm, the same spot where the group also recorded its landmark Five Days In July album.

“We are actually well past the midway point of making the new record. The speed at which we are working kind of took me by surprise. I had basically just come off the road supporting my last solo release and while I knew that we would be doing some recording, I just didn’t realize that it would be moving ahead as fast as it has been. We cut two to three songs in the first couple of days alone.

“I tried to slow the process down some but got shut down pretty fast by the rest of the band,” Jim says with a laugh.

Jim says the band will complete the record later this year, aiming for a release date of October 2013. Asked if fans could reasonably expect to see the band on the road next winter, he says, “We’re so predictable.”

When we point out that we’d prefer using the term “consistent” to describe the band’s routine of being one of a handful of bands that tour during the winter, Jim laughs again.

“Consistent does sound better.”

Article published in the January 19, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript