Blue Rodeo to stay true to its roots

February 22, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

It used to be that rock and roll always had a strong sense of place. New York was not the same as New Orleans, nor was Detroit quite like Dallas. And that often made for audible differences in the music, meaning that Dion and the Belmonts sounded nothing like Frankie Ford, and Bob Seger seemed little like ZZ Top.

That's mostly gone now, though. Rock and roll today is rootless, borderless, generic. It's not, as Gertrude Stein might say, that there's no there there; instead, it's because modern bands are so eager for international success that they don't want their music to seem provincial.

Maybe that's why it's so refreshing to hear a band like Blue Rodeo. Although the group is enormously popular in its native Canada, it remains largely unknown to American listeners. And as much as the band would like to change that, no one in Blue Rodeo really wants to change the band's sound simply to accommodate a mass American audience.

Greg Keelor, who fronts the band with fellow singer/guitarist Jim Cuddy, jokes that Blue Rodeo's stubbornness on this front is really just laziness. "You know, it's that mentality of, 'Well, we'll just wait up here in gorgeous winterland until we have a big hit in the States, and then we'll go down and do it right,' " he says over the phone from his home outside Toronto.

But what it really comes down to is that Blue Rodeo would rather be true to itself on an album than try to reshape its sound into something more commercially appealing. Why not? Well, for one thing, the band already tried that approach with its third album, "Casino."

"With 'Casino,' we tried to make a more concise, easily accessible record," Keelor explains. "A record that those masses around the world would hear, and go, 'Oh, this is what this band sounds like.' And ultimately that wasn't a very satisfying thing for us."

Consequently, the current album, "Lost Together," is gleefully eclectic, finding room for all of the band's musical enthusiasms. "It's one of our good points -- or one of our greatest faults, depending on your politics --that we are so pixilated in what we do," says Keelor. "But if you do know the history of the band and know what we're all about, it's not that pixilated. If you've seen us live a couple of times, it all seems to gel."

As such, the album seems more insular and Canadian than its predecessor -- and not everyone up north thinks that's a good idea. "It's funny," muses Keelor. "You know the Globe and Mail up here? The reviewer for that paper said, 'This is a great record, but this is not going to do the band any good anywhere but Canada.'

"I thought that was sort of interesting. You know, we're all raised on Channel 4 up here -- American TV. So Canada has got to be really smart about maintaining its own myths and identity. And I guess that it's all the perspective of knowing the American culture but not sharing the history and the mythology, and not being indoctrinated into it in grade one."

Still, he says, that can be a struggle, even for him. "One of the first songs I knew in my life was that thing on Captain Kangaroo, 'The president on the dollar is George Washington,' " Keelor recalls. "And my mother would take me aside and go, 'No, you're not an American, you're a Canadian.'

"We're all brought up with this, the same consumer mind-set as anybody on this continent. But then our mothers pull us aside and briefly explain the difference."


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