Blue Rodeo is virtually an institution in Canada. Not quite up there with Mounties and maple syrup, perhaps, but sometimes it seems they’ve been around almost as long …
In truth, it’s been almost 30 years since the band formed in Toronto in the early eighties. They’ve had hits over the years, of course, and received their fair share of domestic airplay. But they’ve never really been a hit-oriented band, preferring instead to craft thoughtful, mature music that melds country and pop with a distinctly Canadian flavor to it all.
Craft is the operative word, and despite the occasionally sprawling nature of The Things We Left Behind, a double-disc set marking their 13th release (not counting solo outings and a greatest hits collection), the package as a whole is surprisingly intimate. Tunesmiths Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor have always been prone to taking their time, but this outing absolutely shimmers with the loving care invested in every song.
What’s also striking about the set is how apparent the band’s influences are, how loosely they’re worn on the sleeve. The harmonies on “Don’t Let The Darkness In Your Head” are distinctly Beatlesque, while “Arizona Dust,” with its interweaving of electric and acoustic guitars and dusty vocals, sounds like it could have been lifted from one of the Eagles’ earlier albums, though the lyrical touchpoints are distinctly Canadian. There are echoes of the Byrds in the chiming guitars and charging harmonies of “Never Look Back,” and moments in “Wasted” that recall The Who in their poppier moments.
Still, as befits the title, the band might be celebrating the past, but they’re not dwelling on it; influences may be obvious, but everything’s blended into a distinctive and thoroughly contemporary sound that could only be Blue Rodeo’s. Both Keelor and Cuddy are superb vocalists, and their alternating leads lend variety to proceedings. The rockers have the requisite drive, and the melodic ballads have an exquisitely aching tenderness. And there’s a thoughtful maturity to the writing, as Cuddy and Keelor both seem to be taking stock, reflecting on the passage of time and the state of the heart with penetrating but poetic insight.
An absolutely stellar outing, this is unquestionably the strongest statement yet from a band that continues to set new standards with each release.