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Small Miracles

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Album Review

Two decades down the line, Canadian country/folk-rockers Blue Rodeo don't offer many twists on the band's 11th studio set. Perhaps this rootsy outing is trying to get back to the group's roots after a few albums that experimented, generally successfully, with a bigger production, including horns and a moderate Brit Invasion approach. Some of those touches appear here, particularly on the "Day in the Life" styled psychedelic middle of Greg Keelor's nearly seven-minute "Black Ribbon." But generally this is a guitar based — both strummed and pedal steel — straightforward approach that plays to the band's established strengths. Jim Cuddy's upbeat pop/rocker "C'mon" is the album's first single, and his mid-tempo country/folk tunes such as the flowing "Mystic River" are standard issue, but the songs are largely played in what can only be called traditional Blue Rodeo style. There have always been aspects of Buffalo Springfield in the band's sound with Keelor's more moody side taking the Neil Young part as Cuddy's pop stylings incorporate both Stephen Stills' and Richie Furay's nonchalant melodicism. Those elements occasionally seem even more pronounced on this release, especially on Keelor's twangy "Blue House" and Cuddy's lovely "3 Hours Away." Both singer/songwriters are in fine form, both vocally and compositionally, writing some of their finest emotionally packed songs, no small feat this far into the partnership. The rest of the band might as well be hired studio musicians since their backup is competent yet inconspicuous and bordering on faceless. But that's not a problem since they are supporting songwriters as strong and on point as Keelor and Cuddy. The last quarter-hour of the album is bottom loaded with softer, more introspective material including a second version of Cuddy's "3 Hours Away," which leaves the listener with a warm, melancholy vibe. Keelor's "It Makes Me Wonder" is another of his heartfelt songs that builds up from a soft beginning to a full-blown epic. Prodded along by subtle organ and pedal steel, it's the album's most riveting and personal tune. His attempt at bossa nova on "Together" is more snoozy than poignant, but it shows he's willing to move into new musical areas. It's, well, a small miracle that Small Miracles sounds this consistently fresh and inspired coming 20 years after Blue Rodeo's debut.


Formed: 1985 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Canada's most popular roots rock band, Blue Rodeo, became a veritable institution in their home country, although they never quite moved beyond cult status in the U.S. Their sound was a basic blend of country, folk, and rock, but with a definite pop appeal that underlined their devotion to later-period Beatles, in addition to expected touchstones like Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, and the Band. Consistency was the hallmark of Blue Rodeo's output, both in terms of sound (which followed much the same blueprint...
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