About The Album
Jim Cuddy is leaning back on couch in the middle of the studio. He is explaining to the two sax players in front of him the kind of feel he'd like to hear them add to the song. The engineer pushes play on the huge recording console and a brand-new hard driving track comes blasting out of the speakers. While the horn players improvise over the playback, Greg Keelor walks around the room with a guitar slung over his shoulder trying out a few riffs of his own. Jim suggests that the horns play a simple phrase that will help push the rhythm of the song along while Greg comes up with four notes that makes the song's chorus stand on its toes. The horn players move into the isolation booth (actually a walk-in storage closet with a fridge and another couch) and begin laying down their parts. Within an hour the whole process is done and "Walk Like You Don't Mind," soon to be a concert favourite of Blue Rodeo fans, is complete.
It's 2002 and clearly the creative team of Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor still has a fire burning inside of them. They have already been heralded as one of the finest songwriting duos to emerge from Canada and with Palace Of Gold (their ninth studio recording) they have challenged even their own notion of what Blue Rodeo is.
"Wherever we were with the last studio record, we were done with that," Jim told Maclean's magazine earlier this summer. "We needed to attempt something we weren't sure we could accomplish."
To understand Palace Of Gold we must first take a step back. In 2001, Blue Rodeo was set to release their first greatest hits collection. While doing interviews for the album, Jim and Greg hinted to the media that they had been listening to a lot of Stax recordings from the sixties and they were thinking of adding horns and strings to their music in the future. When Blue Rodeo went out on a mini-tour to promote the album, they took a four-piece horn section with them and introduced a few new songs to their fans. The critics agreed with the audience, if this is what Blue Rodeo is going to do, we like it.
Earlier in the year, the band had bought a building in downtown Toronto and began to convert it into a recording studio. They covered the walls in weathered wood from an old barn in the Ottawa Valley and fixed Indian scarves to the ceiling. Well-worn furniture was brought in to give it a homey feel and vintage recording gear was put in place for a warm, organic sound. Finally, the band moved in and began working their way through some new material that Jim and Greg had recently written as well as integrating the horns into the established hits of the band's past.
Early in 2002, buoyed by the success of the Greatest Hits tour, Blue Rodeo began recording songs for their new album. Because they owned the studio, they weren't "on the clock" and could take their time in exploring the new sounds they had intended for their latest project. Songs would take on various incarnations before realizing the life they now lead. At one point, the same hard driving "Walk Like You Don't Mind" was actually a slow blues number.
One of the earliest songs the band recorded was an exquisite Jim Cuddy ballad called "Bulletproof." Fans had first heard the song in concert in the summer of 2001 but it was in the studio where it really came to life. A beautifully orchestrated string section takes the song to a place no other Blue Rodeo song had gone to before. The track became a natural choice as the album's first single as "Bulletproof" illustrates how far Jim's voice and songwriting have come in 15 years.
Greg Keelor came to the sessions with his own cache of amazing material. The ethereal "Comet," with its own soaring string arrangement, is reminiscent of a time when rock music was allowed to be more than just guitars and drums bashing away for three minutes. "Palace Of Gold," the album's ebullient title track, contains the refrain "Some men fly high in the Palace of Gold" which seems to sum up the spirits of the current incarnation of Blue Rodeo.
Although the talk will no doubt be about the addition of the Planet Soul Strings and the Bushwhacked Horns, one mustn't dismiss the awesome musical muscle at the core of the band. Glenn Milchem drives the songs, playing drums with both fierce power and the fragility of a butterfly. James Gray can happily take Jim and Greg's songs in a variety of directions thanks to his eclectic ear at the keyboards. Multi-instrumentalist Bob Egan (formerly of Wilco) adds a bit of beauty to everything he touches whether it be a slide guitar, mandolin or acoustic guitar solo. And finally there's Bazil Donovan, doing what he's been doing since day one of Blue Rodeo, laying down a foundation with a bass playing style that is instantly recognizable.
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Since the release of their debut album, Outskirts, in March 1987, Blue Rodeo have established themselves as one of the premiere bands in Canadian music history. Prior to Palace Of Gold, they had released eight studio albums, one live album and a greatest hits collection, which have sold in excess of three million copies around the world. They have won pretty much every award a band can win in Canada and in the fall of 2001, they were presented with the key to the city of Toronto (their home town) as an acknowledgment of their success around the world and their work as ambassadors of Canadian culture.