July 10, 1997


Blue Rodeo Buck No Trends with Tremolo
by Kieran Grant


Blue Rodeo's never been up-tight about getting loose.  

So the band wasn't too concerned about breaking the rules while making their latest back-to-basics effort, Tremolo.  

"It's sort of funny that our back-to-basics album includes a nine-piece string section and a mellotron," Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy is saying over lunch yesterday, where he's joined by co-singer-guitarist Greg Keelor to discuss the new album, which came out this week.  

"If it represents a back-to-basics-ness, it's because all the pieces have been put back together," Cuddy adds. "The songs are integrated. It sounds like a band."  

Blue Rodeo headline the Stardust Ball show tomorrow and Sunday at Old Fort York, along with Great Big Sea, Victoria Williams, Steve Earle, Skydiggers, and Oh Susanna.  

The venue is Cuddy's idea for an intimate show, in contrast to other local music festivals that require huge spaces.  

Tremolo is a loose, comfortable disc that captures the spontaneity of an acoustic jam, complete with coughs, throat clearings and background noise.  

But the group also manages to sneak in some finishing touches that put a weird, ambient-folk spin on their country-rock traditionalism.  

Happy accidents all, according to Cuddy.  

"We didn't impose a concept on the structure," he says. "We didn't even play the songs for each other before we went in. We would just learn it, record it and move on. The reason we were able to fool around with strings and keyboard sounds is because we ended up getting most of the tracks recorded in two weeks and we had all this extra time. Then we could look for entirely different dimensions for the songs."  

Keelor says the band first had to learn to ease up on themselves when rehearsing for their annual Christmas gigs at the Danforth Music Hall, which feature informal jams with various musical guests.  

"The first year, we'd taped practices, rehearsed with the tapes, and wound up burning ourselves out," says Keelor. "By the time we went to perform we'd forget everything and it would just be a big mess. The last couple of years we've just gone and played, trusting that process rather than trying to remember everything. The spontaneous things that happen are encouraging. Easy, actually."  

They applied the same theory to Tremolo. Sort of.  

"It wasn't a very conscious process," says Cuddy. "Because Greg was touring his own record, Gone, we didn't have time to rehearse. He didn't come back until five days before we went in to record."  

He adds sarcastically: "That was the high concept of that plan."  

Oddly, Tremolo's easy-going feel was born of some frustration among Blue Rodeo's ranks. Twelve years together can put a lot of stress on a songwriting partnership.  

After recharging their batteries with respective solo projects, Keelor and Cuddy both agree they were happy to surrender songs to the control of the Blue Rodeo collective.  

"It's very relaxing," says Keelor. "There used to be songs where I was nuts about trying to get them a certain way. After doing a whole record of those, I was ready to see what happened if I let go earlier."