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About ten years ago a small blurb in the University of Michigan campus newspaper announced the coming of the Canadian musical group, Blue Rodeo, to Rick's American Cafe. Their claim at that time was they had won the Juno award, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy award, as the best rock band in Canada. Given this hype, I caught the show and have been a big fan ever since. The reason for my adoration can be heard on their latest recording, "Tremolo." Although the personnel of Blue Rodeo has changed over the years, the core members - Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, guitar and principal song writers and Bazil Donovan, bass - have remained. The group now includes drummer extraordinaire, Glenn Michem; former slide guitarist and dobro player for the Cowboy Junkies, Kim Deschamps; and James Gray on keyboard. As a unit they are one of the finest popular music ensembles, certainly in Canada and for my money, in the U.S. "Tremolo" is a lot like their classic 1 993 live recording "Five Days In May." Recorded fast, "the band had no knowledge of the songs before [they] entered the studio. We just went in without a lot of rehearsal and cut a song a day," says Jim Cuddy. The result is a recording that shows the cohesiveness of the ensemble and a similarity of aesthetic concerns. "Tremolo" as a whole is certainly sonically interesting. At times using four guitarists, other times fabulously combining banjo, dobro, slide pedal guitar with the typical rock ensemble, there is a clear sense of psychedelia in much of the music. "We come from a more psychedelic pop background," explains Greg Keelor. "The imprint of songs for us is related more to '60s pop than country music. We came to country after all that '60s music was already in our minds. We put banjo [and pedal] on so many songs for the feel, the groove. We're looking for textural changes from that past that are more pop and rock oriented." On "Tremolo" Blue Rodeo has succeeded in this ambition. At times the accompaniments under the lyrics are eerie, sometimes using guitar lines that sound as f they were recorded backwards. Other times the cross talk between three and four guitars is so thick yet productionally clean that one can almost get lost in their conversation. The overall effect is pop music that surely covers country but hankers towards the great ethereal pop-country of the late sixties work of the Byrds and "The Red-Headed Stranger" period of Willie Nelson. A true strength of Blue Rodeo is their ability to combine great lyrics with memorable melodies. It also doesn't hurt to have Jim Cuddy sing them. His voice is classic country - not in the sense of glottal clicks and hiccups, but in the sense of understanding the phrasing of a good country riff. The best exampleof this isfound on "Falling Down Blue." Although the lyrics are evocative and sensual: "All right I miss you tonightAnd l'm not really sure what to saylt keeps rolling in like a slow moving trainlt gets harder and harder each day Each time I think that the worst of it's throughl'm stopped in my tracks by some visión of youAil right I miss you tonight I admit that l'm falling down blue," it is only when connected to the grace and beauty of the slow swinging melody that one fully feels and understands the singer's position. One does not have to be a country fan to recognize the craftsmanship and talent it takes to make such a stunning lyric and musical statement. The point about Blue Rodeo is that they make these wonderful musical statements over and over again. Instead of becoming hackneyed and predictable, the shifting lyrical positions coupled with great musical sensitivity make the tunes consistently listenable, never tiresome. This dual foundation is readily apparent on "No Miracle, No Dazzle." Taking a very mature point of view the protagonist confesses, "You say we don't live togetherWe just share the same house Funny how you took the words Right out of my mouthNo miracle no dazzle My tongue is tiedAnd at this point there ain't much differenceBetween the leavingAnd the left behind." Where the lyrics let us see the shoulders shrugging, the music Iets us feel them. In a sense it's hard to describe the depth and sophistication of Blue Rodeo's compositions. To quote the lyrics only gives a partial picture of their talent and a deep analysis of the music tends to obscure more than reveal. Let it be said that their work is refreshing, rewarding and very satisfying. Highly recommended. Aware Compilation 5 Aware Records In 1993 the first Aware complilation was released from this East Lansing label (now Chicago) claiming to assemble some of the best unsigned bands from across the country. This first compilation was rocksolid, featuring Jackopierce, Acoustic Junction amd others. Subsequent yearly releases included cuts by Better Than Ezra, The Verve Pipe, Farmer, Stir, and early Hootie and the Blow Fish. Now Compilation 5 is out, and it also showcases some of the strongest unsigned bands around. Although Compilation 5 is not as acoustic as some of the earlier works, the rock slant of this complilation is easily carried off by such groups as the Ada, Mich.-based quartet, Papa Vegas, whose tune 'BombshelP' is both catchy and well produced; the East Lansing ensemble, Dorothy, with the searingvocalsofSusanRaeVecchio; the wonderful Trish Murphy from Austin, Texas; and the Chicago powerhouse guitar-laced quartet, Dovetail Joint. All the groups on this collection - be it Gumwrapper Curb from Orlando, FL, Blue Dogs from Charleston, SC, Todd Thibaud from Brighton, MA, or East Lansing's Nineteen Wheels - are directed at the college music scène. The tunes are rock-based, with very clean production values (a hallmark of all of Aware's compilation discs) which focus on the sensitivities and feelings of that audience. This is in no way suggesting that the material is weak, on the contrary, overall the compilaltion is well worth a listen and stands on its own feet as a worthy addition to one's musical collection. And in the end this is all one can hope from any complilation. Available at local stores.


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