Collaboration pays off for Rodeo proprietors

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      After 23 years of working together, Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor are determined to remain sole proprietors of their band. But when it came time to make Blue Rodeo’s new CD, Small Miracles, the veteran singer-songwriters opened up the decision-making process to bassist Bazil Donovan, multi-instrumentalist Bob Egan, drummer Glenn Milchem, and keyboardist Bob Packwood.

      “This time, the agenda was that we were going to force everybody to work like we worked when we were putting the band together,” Cuddy says, reached at home in Toronto. “With the last record, Are You Ready, we tried to get in there and do the songs fast so we would get good live takes. But this one, we didn’t even record until we really thought the song was in its best shape. And that involved really forcing Bazil and Glenn and the two Bobs to stay in the room and participate.

      “There were some nightmarish scenes,” he adds. “Greg and I have always worked in isolation.”¦But this time there were points when we were trying to figure out an ending to a song, and everybody had a guitar and they were all strumming stuff, trying out different ideas. To me, it was like, ”˜Oh my God, how did we end up with this nightmare of everybody having their hands in my goop?’ ”

      Painful though this must have been to Blue Rodeo’s resident perfectionist, the results were worth it.

      “We knew Bazil was a very good arranger,” Cuddy offers. “But he’s also become, for better or worse, our bullshit monitor. You know, he’ll go, ”˜This song’s fucking boring.’ And you think, ”˜Whoa, that’s a bit harsh,’ but then you do some stuff to make it better.”

      What’s most notable about Small Miracles is its focus. Keelor’s diary-style confessionals are sharp and revealing, while Cuddy probes deeper into his various characters’ psyches. And the music sparkles with obvious but unslavish references to the ’60s and ’70s acts that inspired the two writers when they were just starting out, including the Beatles, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, and the Flying Burrito Brothers.

      The Cuddy-penned title track, with its allusions to a friend on the verge of succumbing to a fatal addiction, is among Blue Rodeo’s best. But its author points to Keelor’s “It Makes Me Wonder” as Small Miracles’ real centrepiece.

      “One of the themes that emerged in this record is best embodied in that song, where he says ”˜Take the veil from your eyes/This is who I’ve always been,’ ” Cuddy says.

      Cuddy’s talking about the kind of maturity that comes with accepting one’s own foibles. But he could also be talking about the internal workings of his band, which is still very much the Keelor/Cuddy show.

      “I don’t think it’s evolving into a democracy, but I think it is evolving into a more benevolent dictatorship,” he notes. “And I’m just happy to see that everybody cared enough about the record that they wanted their input to have some value.”

      Blue Rodeo plays the Orpheum on Monday and Tuesday (January 14 and 15).