Record Review - 2 September 11 2003

For nearly 15 years, Blue Rodeo has been one of the most consistently popular acts to hail from our great white neighbor to the north. Though the six talented Canucks have entered these borders several times, they’ve never established a firm foothold in the U.S.-- ironic, considering their astute, unfettered study of Americana. Blue Rodeo has conjured the Band, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Gram Parsons and more into a twangy pop context led by co-singer/ songwriters Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor.

That’s not to say there isn’t something essentially Canadian to Blue Rodeo’s balladry. There’s no hint of the many cliches occasionally bogging down American country-tinged composition — no mundane or maudlin hound dogs, pick-ups and mending fences. Rather, the Canadian aspect is a celebration of not being fenced in. Blue Rodeo’s music, like the group’s home country, is all about expanse — influences, instrumentation and, if talk of the muse of weed and psychedelic mushrooms is true, mental expansion, as well.

Now with Palace of Gold, Blue Rodeo continues to expand, adding touches of Elvis Costello and Stax Records, incorporating horns and strings. The truth is, while much is good, some of the self-produced material could use polish. Sun-kissed harmonies still glisten, sure, but at times the mix gets muddy — strings will sweep, horns blurt, organ grinds and pedal steel weeps and soars — tearing the listener in several directions.

By the latter half, however, a greater balance is struck, and the melodies begin to match the means. Not quite the Midas touch, but at times still a deft one from these winsome wanderers.

Blue Rodeo plays at Smith’s Olde Bar Sat., Sept. 13. $10.