I didn’t hear this album until I saw Blue Rodeo play it live on their tour of its 30th anniversary. I understand that’s a very weird way to encounter an album, but prior to last night I had only ever heard “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” (and I couldn’t have named the song, only knew it was a Blue Rodeo song).
My biggest issue with Blue Rodeo in general, to the extent that I know them in studio (which isn’t well), is that they are a titch too polished for my liking. One reason I think they don’t get more credit as alt-country pioneers is that they just aren’t “alt” enough. (The main reason is they’re Canadian. Another reason is the Jayhawks beat them do it. Ahem.)
But this is partly mitigated on this record, notably on the guitar solo on “Five Days in May,” which is possibly the grittiest thing I’ve heard from them in studio. The hidden track also has some A Capella vocals which feels distinct from them. Despite these recordings supposedly being demos, they are still too polished for me much of the time.
One thing I do appreciate is the willingness to sometimes violate country rock arrangement conventions. Particularly on a couple of Keelor’s songs, there’s little fidelity to making the “song” country even though the band has absolutely located themselves in the country rock genre.
In terms of the songs, I once again find it refreshing to have two songwriters with slightly different approaches, it offers good contrast. Incidentally learned last night that I have mistook multiple Keelor’s songs for Cuddy’s when I have heard them. Less incidentally, I found a number of Keelor’s lyrics from this record to be a little awkward last night, but I feel less like that now. (In his defense, I could understand more of Keelor’s words because more of Cuddy’s songs are louder/faster. But this is also the case of familiarity breeding favour.) I still think neither are the greatest lyricists, but they have very strong senses of melody and the contrasting worldviews is good for the record.
Having just seen them live I will say I prefer them live, with a little more energy and way more solos. They just don’t have quite enough grit for me as a country-adjacent band. But I understand why people regard this as one of their best.