Palace of Gold
If there’s a better tag team of singer-songwriters around these days than Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, I don’t know about them. Finally seeing a U.S. release a year after it debuted in their native Canada, the band’s ninth studio album Palace of Gold is a tour de force of great songs, great playing and great singing.
Cuddy and Keelor split the lead vocals in half with Cuddy taking on several rich, pop-infused ballads and Keelor handling the more twangy, homespun tunes. They also harmonize together on tracks like the title song (recently covered by The Sadies) and the soulful “Holding On.”
Bob Egan adds pedal steel to Keelor’s mandolin-tinged strummer “Homeward Bound Angel,” an easygoing tune about wandering that works up to a gospel fervor complete with horn section. The horns return on the Cuddy rocker “Walk Like You Don’t Mind,” which is driven along by drummer Glenn Milchen’s solid backbeat and Bazil Donovan’s wandering basslines. Those same horns sound a bit Herb Alpert-ish on Keelor’s lounge-y “What A Surprise.” But of all the brass-backed tunes, it’s Cuddy’s rocker “Clearer View” that’s going on my next mix CD for when I need a jolt of energy.
Elsewhere, Cuddy’s “Bulletproof” is a stone cold classic ballad and the string-laden “Love Never Lies” could be a hit for some smart country singer looking for songs to record. “Cause For Sympathy” on the other hand sounds like some kind of ’70s singer-songwriter show-stopper.
Keelor’s “Stage Door” is not as dramatic as those tunes but it’s no less powerful in its impact. “Ain’t no mystery what I need is understanding and your sweet sympathy,” he sings. “A steel string guitar and a little weed and someone to keep me company.” Keelor’s shimmering ballad “Glad To Be Alive” is similarly simple and sweet. And his set closing “Tell Me Baby How Do I Get Back to You” is a Tom Petty-ish, pedal steel-flavored gem.
Palace of Gold is simply packed with great songs. In a perfect world, Blue Rodeo’s Canadian take on California country rock would make them huge stars south of the border.