Blue Rodeo: 1000 Arms

Blue Rodeo

Videos by American Songwriter

Blue Rodeo
1000 Arms
3 out of 5 stars

Thirty years is a long time for an Americana band to stay afloat without much in the way of an American following, but veteran Canadian act Blue Rodeo has nevertheless endured. Credit enormous success in their home country for keeping the group afloat. Co-founders, guitarists, vocalists and songwriters Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor have mined a somewhat similar—some might say too similar– groove based on strummy guitars, expressive tunes and consistently top notch playing over the course of 13 studio albums.

Release number 14 doesn’t radically mess with that formula, although there is additional bite and soul in these performances, especially compared to the band’s more bucolic tendencies seen on 2013’s In Our Nature. Lead vocals are shared about equally by the boyish voiced Cuddy and the shadier, grizzled singing of Keelor, but here they also harmonize more than in the past, a refreshing change of pace. Keelor nails his moody vibe on the ominous “Dust to Gold,” enhanced by spooky organ and ghostly pedal steel that echoes dusky, even morose lyrics that recount a betrayed relationship in “I raise this drink to the lies you speak/too numb, too drunk to sleep.” Cuddy isn’t much happier in the sweeter sounding but still dark tale of an ex who can’t get her act together in “Long Hard Life.” Relationships generally don’t fare well with these guys, as on the country/bluesy “Can’t Find My Way Back to You,” energized by a typically catchy Cuddy melody and vocal. Keelor’s harder rocking “Rabbit’s Foot” (“I want to be your comfort/your private sky and rabbit’s foot”) has the protagonist asking an ex to take him back on one of this disc’s most energetic performances, proving these guys can tear it up even in their deeper, more intimate moments. Cuddy’s moving title track is a typically mid-tempo, Poco-like ballad addressing a community who assists one of their own experiencing emotional issues, enhanced by honeyed pedal steel and a hum-along chorus.

Longtime Rodeo followers know to look for the closing song as each album’s epic. That’s the case with Keelor’s “The Flame,” a lyrically mysterious tune about a shadowy woman who might have left him that builds in intensity over the course of its six and a half minutes and features Doors-like organ along with Keelor’s passionate vocals.

While Blue Rodeo have taken stabs at incorporating soul and pop into what is now their established sound, on 1000 Arms they return to the basics of solid songwriting and organic playing. It works to their strengths and exhibits the resilience that has helped them keep the faith over three decades of under-the-radar (at least in America) quality music.

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