Having clocked countless miles in their decade-long career, through enough endless
highways and stuffy studio sessions to fill an epic documentary, the songs of multi-platinum-selling
artist Blue Rodeo have cut a wide path in their native Canada. But after such hit
albums as FIVE DAYS IN JULY and NOWHERE TO HERE, the band found a way (as well as
a need) to reinvent themselves, and their music.
"For TREMOLO, the band had no knowledge of the songs before we entered the studio,"
says songwriter-vocalist Jim Cuddy. "We just went in without a lot of rehearsal
and cut a song a day. We get too caught up in ideas and conceptualizing when we
think too much. Our instincts are pretty good. If we go with that it will be something
we'll all like. We did very little talking this time. Otherwise, we're six individuals
with very different ideas about music. So we trusted our intuition. First thought,
This off-the-cuff approach reinspired the band and put them back on the road to
surprise, to that space where Blue Rodeo excel. Recorded after a year off doing
solo projects, TREMOLO sparkles with intimate details that glimmer, glow, and almost
slip by unnoticed. Little, eclectic moments of musical finery like the string quartet
solo in "Disappear," what sounds like a backwards guitar break in "It Could Happen
to You," or the Nashville-meets-Pet Sounds wonder of "Frog's Lullabye," where dreamy
strings swoon over crying guitars and a choir of mating frogs.
Other songs benefit from this intuitive approach in less obvious, but equally rewarding
ways. After the darker paths of Nowhere to Here, Blue Rodeo found themselves ready
for a lighter touch, while still blending the introspective with the outwardly sunny.
From the opening, front porch swing of "Moon and Tree," with its sparkling banjo
crosstalk and pedal steel quickstep, it's apparent that Blue Rodeo has found a new
groove to kick up the dust. "I Could Never Be That Man" is irresistibly upbeat and
rolling, while "Falling Down Blue" tells a lover's tale with the kind of grace and
beauty that practically leaves Blue Rodeo in a class all their own. With the band
trading instruments to unusual effect, the song seems to float in space, timeless
and lovely. In a similar vein, "Beautiful Blue" unfurls slowly like a morning fog,
wandering delicately over an echoing piano, while "Brother Andre's Heart," a surreal
story of a preserved heart, bruised knees and a hallucination, shows Blue Rodeo's
sense of humor remains intact.
"We've grown more confident in the whole process," says Keelor. "We just went in
the studio and began with no arrangements and the songs just kept piling up. We
never had a chance to fuss with them. That was nice. This is a real band record,
it's not dominated by the singer-songwriters. We were more relaxed this time." While
Webster's defines tremolo as "a tremulous effect produced by rapid reiteration of
the same tone," the title seems to fit all the musical cracks and crevices Blue
Rodeo create, those unmistakable flashes that appear when the band's collective
unconscious takes over the proceedings.
"Everything becomes metaphorically resonant," muses Cuddy. "Somebody said when we
were all wearing headphones, 'Tremolo, the breath of electricity.' That really is
what a record are like. Some songs are exhalations, some are like inhalations. We
got mesmerized by the concept, that tremolo was a gathering principle for all the
songs we were going to put on this album. It's also a word that most people outside
the record industry have never heard of."
Blue Rodeo songs exist in that weird slope between country and rock, with a healthy
dose, at least conceptually, of psychedelia. Where other bands might drive a song
on all fours with obvious signposts to bridge, verse and chorus, Blue Rodeo always
find a unique side-road to explore.
"There is a certain frequency of introduction of new ideas in each song," says Cuddy.
"That's pretty consistent on TREMOLO. Unlike the last one, we're not trying to create
a mood then move around a little within that mood. Now we're actually trying to
change texture frequently. There was a great sense of energy in the room while we
What with the new wave of county-folk-punkers gaining their own moniker, No Depression,
Blue Rodeo's brand of country rough-and-tumble seems to fit the genre. Not quite.
"We come from more of a psychedelic pop background," explains Keelor. "The imprint
of songs for us is related more to 60s pop than country music. We came to country
after all that 60s music was already in our minds. We put banjo [not to mention
Chamberlein and Mellotron] on so many songs for the feel, the groove. We're looking
for textural changes from that past that are more pop and rock oriented."
"We don't build a song then add on to it," adds Cuddy, describing part of the band's
unique sound. "We let something happen then we put support underneath it. If somebody
goes off on a solo tangent, it's easier to add support under that. That comes from
having enough trust to follow each other."
Twelve years down the road, with six best-selling albums under their belt (Outskirts,
Diamond Mine, Casino, Lost Together, Five Days In July, and Nowhere to Here), Blue
Rodeo has tackled the challenge of reinvention, of disguising their familial faces,
with unusual vigor and success.
"We've come to a peaceful resolution," says Cuddy. "When you're a band for a long
time you inevitably suffer from constantly giving your contribution over and then
having it altered by the group, where it's rejected, or changed. Eventually people
get so pissed off. In the last year we've done our own thing, which was incredibly
beneficial. Now we're getting our rocks off knowing that we make a singular sound.
That's very satisfying." "We didn't get so obsessed with details this time," concludes
Keelor. "We just played it to friends and made casual decisions. We've labored so
much in the past. You can get so nuts you don't have any idea of how it's going
to sound six months from now. We were a lot more playful this time, and the result
is a lot more enjoyable."
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