A gift from my lovely wife for this year’s Christmas, I am a bit torn. I surely do love me some Blue Rodeo. But I don’t tend to like Christmas music. How will I do with this one?
First up is Jesus Christ, a Big Star song. I’m not an overly religious guy, but I can respect those who believe in this stuff. It’s an OK tune, nice to hear Greg Keelor’s voice, as usual. The tune plods a bit, but no matter. A decent opener.
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas is next, and the boys keep it soft and gentle. Simple arrangement, low-key instruments and a great piano part. Jim Cuddy’s voice stands out on top, and that’s a great thing, here.
Up next is Merle Haggard’s If We Make It Through December. Blue Rodeo was built to play this song, and it’s a pleasing country run through. Gotta love Merle.
We move on to Joni Mitchell’s River, with its Jingle Bells teaser intro. This really is a beautiful version. Pretty hard to muck up a Joni song, they’re built strong.
And now it’s my favourite-titled Christmas tune of all time, O Come All Ye Faithful. Yes, ye faithful, come as often as ye can! Give ‘er! Ahem. Anyway, they rock this hymn up, Blue Rodeo style. Cool enough but I’m not likely to play it much. I have lots of other songs of theirs built like this that don’t have a church hymn as the lyrics.
Now we’re hearing Paul Simon’s Getting Ready For Christmas Day. You should know, I generally dislike Paul Simon’s music. And it’s a Christmas song. That’s two heavy strikes against it. And how is it? It’s a fairly straight-on rock tune with lots of the BR instrumental accents, but it doesn’t change much so it’s a bit monotonous. It’s alright.
Now we have a remake of Glad To Be Alive (from Palace Of Gold). It sounds like… well, it sounds like Blue Rodeo. Imagine that! Very nice, it’s one I’d play again. I don’t own Palace Of Gold, but I surely should. [I’m actually missing several of their albums, so I need to get on that!]
And here is a new song written for this collection, Home To You This Christmas, and it’s Jim Cuddy in front of a mid-tempo BR song, with piano and steel guitar accents. This is actually quite awesome. Even the “doo doo doo doo” solo at the end, haha!
Gordon Lightfoot’s Song For A Winter’s Night has a special place in our lives, at our house. It was one of the songs that would help our daughter calm down when she was a baby and we had to put her in the car and drive her around to get her to sleep. Keelor makes a decent job of it. I can still only hear Gord’s version. The song is so GORD, a cover seems almost superfluous. Still, good on them for including it.
And last is Robbie Robertson’s Christmas Must Be Tonight, which they turn into a Blue Rodeo song, basically. Again with the Jesus in the manger lyrics, but there you go, that was Mr. Robertson’s choice.
The boys are stronger on their own stuff. Some of the covers are good, some just OK, but one still gets the sense they’re aware it’s a cover tune so they’re approaching it that way. Yes, they make them sound like themselves (how could they not), but it’s when they’re playing stuff they’ve written where they really stretch their legs and sound comfortable. I (personally) still have a hard time with the Christmas side of it. I just don’t go there with all those bible stories. Again, that’s my own lack of need for it, you’re all welcome to believe whatever you like.
This is a very good CD. Reading this back myself, I may have seemed a little critical of it, but as I prefaced this whole thing, I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas music to begin with, so that is a factor here. And you have to know by now that even fair-to-middling Blue Rodeo is ten times better than a lot of other music that’s out there. These guys are a superlative band, there’s no questioning their abilities as players. I liked this, but I’ll probably reach for other BR first. Maybe next Christmas I’ll give it another spin!
One thing has always bugged me, Blue Rodeo.
Your classic I LOVE IT album is called Five Days In July.
Your song, the first track on that same album (and a BRILLIANT song it is), is called Five Days In MAY.
LeBrain says they named it with July ‘cos that’s the month in which they recorded the album. James didn’t know, but guessed that maybe they needed to drop a syllable while recording the song? I don’t accept “artistic license” as an answer. That’s like saying “g-d works in mysterious ways,” which is a cop-out for not knowing, the religious equivalent of that old parental chesnut “go ask your mother.”
I have no guesses. But I know this conundrum has driven me crazy for the longest time.
So c’mon Blue Rodeo, which is it?
and I attended the Regina Folk Festival. Blue Rodeo was one of the headliners, and I was lucky enough to capture some of their set on video, which I subsequently uploaded to YouTube.
Tonight, my recording of Hasn’t Hit Me Yet received the following comment:
I am Canadian, my birthday is in December and I am a Officer in the Navy. During the 911 crisis my ship was in lake Ontario on a patrol. The actual night of 911 a friend and myself, both of whom play guitar, sat in the Wardroom (officers lounge) and played & sang this song over and over again as some strange, spontanious way of dealing with our feelings. I will never forget this song nor will I never forget that night.
I often say that I love the internet. Usually, I’m being facetious because I’ve just seen something hilarious that has to do with wieners or butts.
(I get lots of links from my friends – I’ve said many times when I shudder whenever I hear “I saw this and I thought of you” because it reveals some very sad truths about myself and how people perceive me. Not that they’re incorrect, and not that wieners and butts aren’t hilarious. But I digress.)
This time, though, I love the internet for real. I have no idea who this person is. From what little I know about him, I could narrow him down to one of hundreds of people who are in the Canadian Navy and who have birthdays in December. This assumes I could get a list of Navy personnel with birthdays in December, which I’m guessing isn’t likely. For that matter, I’m making an assumption when I say “him.” I really don’t know. I’ll keep saying “him” because it’s easy and I’m lazy.
We’ve probably never been in the same city at the same time. Maybe not even the same province. I didn’t have him in mind when I saw the concert, recorded the video, or uploaded the video. By all rights, our paths should never have crossed. But here we are. I shared a slice of my life in the video. I got a story in return. And maybe I’m tired and overthinking things, but it just seems so cool that this is possible.
I guess the moral of the story is that I should bootleg more concert videos for YouTube.
When I think of Canadian music, there are a ton of artists that spring immediately to mind. All of them are well-known and loved within these far-flung borders, and Blue Rodeo is definitely in that list for me. They’ve been around long enough now, and had so many hits in this country that they are a part of the landscape, interwoven in all of our lives for good. And that’s awesome. I just hope we never take them for granted.
I’ve heard people say that all of this band’s songs sound the same. Kinda country, kinda pop with an occasional rock song thrown in. Repeat. Yah, well, if you’re not listening closely enough that may be true for you. But spend some quality time with any of their records, Small Miracles is certainly no exception, and you’ll hear so much more going on. It’s in the arrangements, so skillfully constructed and executed. It’s in the interplay of the instruments, playful and purposeful all at once. It’s also in the vocals, shared between Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy and how each voice lends itself to each song perfectly, as required. Finally, the lyrics are telling the story of all of our lives in this great big lug of a country we call home, whether you admit it or not.
This is music about feeling, thinking and doing. It’s about being where we are in our lives right now and acknowledging that we’re just like everyone else in the most fundamental ways. We all have memories we cherish, times we wish we could change what we did or said, places we think we might rather be or lives we think we might rather be living. We all have to get up early in the morning to shovel snow because otherwise we’ll be late for work. We’re all a part of this country, and this music is an integral part of the soundtrack.
I heartily recommend this record. And you should own most (if not all) of their others by now too. Right? Right.
01 So Far Away
02 This Town
03 Blue House
04 3 Hours Away
05 It Makes Me Wonder
06 Summer Girls
08 Mystic River
09 Black Ribbon
11 Small Miracles
13 Where I Was Before