Listening to music before the days of high-speed internet meant you could only listen to what you had physical copies of if you didn’t want to listen to the radio. My parents used to do that whole Columbia House mail club subscription service, so my collection was fairly limited. Basically imagine Spotify, except more expensive, extremely limited in selection and long wait times to actually hold the physical copy. Around this time, I started getting into music and Blue Rodeo were one of those bands with CDs available through Columbia House. One of the first bands I listened to constantly on repeat, you could say they’re partially responsible for setting me on the road to writing about Canadian music. To be honest, I haven’t listened to the alt-country band all that much since Jr. High and have never seen them live.
With the group headlining Halifax Jazz Festival on Friday, July 14 (Ron Sexsmith opens the night at 8:30), I thought it would be fun to listen to my five favourite Blue Rodeo songs when I was in Jr. High and offer some commentary on what I think of them now.
“5 Will Get You Six” – Outskirts
First of all, it never bothered me seeing five as a number and six as a word. The younger version of me didn’t even know what CP Style is, let alone care about this inconsistency. The main hook of the chorus says “5’ll get you six if you play the dice right”. I didn’t care about the meaning then or really understand it and on second listen here in 2017, I still don’t quite get it. I can see why I was drawn to the song.
Both Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy play off each other all song long and as a kid I could never decide whose songs and vocals I enjoyed more. It was pretty much a coin toss, or in the case of this song, a dice roll. And there’s that nice rippin’ guitar solo in the middle, kind of haunted by the organ in the background. Kids love guitar solos. I still give this one a five out of six.
“Cynthia” – Five Days in July
Alright, now things are starting to make sense. This song is built on a foundation of pedal steel, an instrument that to this day I’m drawn to Canadian folk and indie rock. And there’s lots of piano. At the time I was taking piano lessons and apparently had “piano fingers”, I just hated practicing so it didn’t go far. Lyrically, I was drawn to “We could watch the space ships, maybe they’d take us on a trip.” At this point in life, I had no interest in love, but I sure did love space and wanted to be an astronaut.
“Head Over Heels” – Five Days in July
Younger me didn’t really understand how singles worked. Apparently this song was the sixth single from the album, which just seems like way too many singles, but the ’90s were a totally different era for music promotion. Maybe I was drawn to the harmonica and the vocal harmonies back then. Once again, I’m surprised I enjoyed a love song so much since I didn’t have a frame of reference for the heartbreak that drives this one.
“Shed My Skin” – Tremolo
On Tremolo, the songs were brought to the whole band last minute to create spontaneity. I didn’t have the internet, didn’t read music publications and had no idea that was a thing on the record. I definitely thought it didn’t feel as polished as the other records, so this explains a lot. It’s also interesting how with most present day albums there’s some sort of narrative that ultimately can end up influencing how you perceive the record. Listening to this album as a kid I didn’t know anything about the band outside of what was written in the linear notes.
Okay, back to this song. This was always one of my favourite Jim Cuddy vocal performances. There’s a calmness despite obvious sadness. There’s the reverberating guitar that shakes through to the core. Judging by the void of live performances of this song on YouTube, this song wasn’t exactly a hit.
“Disappear” – Tremolo
Ah, so that whole not being able to decide if I liked Cuddy or Keelor vocals better. Well, this is a Keelor track and it’s pretty dark and sad. Cuddy could make sadness sound sweet, like he still could find a silver lining. With Keelor, when he sings about wishing he could disappear, it just sounds dark and lonely. While some kids were listening to pop punk or rock and expressing emotions through that, I was doing my thing and listening to sad country rock, a genre that’s never been my go-to since those Blue Rodeo days.
Press photo of Blue Rodeo via Warner Music Canada