Copyright © 1997. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, July 27
Calgary Folk Music Festival
Tremolo, the title of Blue Rodeo's seventh album, is, as founding member Jim Cuddy explains it, a musical term that was the original name for the whammy bar, but now defines a repetition in sound with a variance in volume. That's the music shop definition. This is how Cuddy explains it in lay terms: "Whah, whah, whah, whah, whah, whah, whah."
At any rate, it's a seemingly strange metaphor for a band that has been anything but repetitive. Since the urban honky-tonk of their 1987 debut, Outskirts, the group has constantly permutated into the deeper, moodier recesses of country pop.
"I think there's a lot of pressure to constantly reinvent ourselves," acknowledges Cuddy. "I think once you get six or seven records into your career you're into some pretty uncharted territory for Canadian bands. You could either go the Phil Collins route and just plow along, making songs you think will really be popular. Or you can constantly try to reinvigorate interest in yourself. You have to be interested in yourself in order to get people interested in you.
"For some reason we choose the latter: we choose to make different records every time."
Of course, the band's evolution has been forced along somewhat by fate - namely several key internal shake-ups. Never mind the fact that they're on drummer number three - that's par for the course for most groups that last past their second album - but, the departure of keyboardist Bob Wiseman left the band with a rather large void to fill. Although in retrospect Wiseman was only around for a short amount of time, he nevertheless helped define Blue Rodeo's sound with his avant-garde spin on the band's otherwise straight-faced Gram Parsons altar of devotion.
"That dramatically changed the band," recalls Cuddy. "He (Wiseman) was a very key musical element in the band and also a very key esthetic element. He had a very modern, jarring, non-traditional way of playing his instrument. After that we basically had to start again, so we brought in a pedal steel player and another organ player.
"I think this band is the result of that and the esthetic of this band is very broad; we do atmospheric stuff, we do improvisational stuff, we do straight-ahead ballads. I think we've developed into a band again, that's what Tremolo is: a band that is very aware that it has a unique character."
All of which leads to some head-scratching over the title Tremolo; considering Blue Rodeo's long history and their current open-door policy experimentation, it seems contradictory, recalling the term's definition, to name the album as such. Well, it turns out to be linked to the esoteric quality of the sound Tremolo evokes, rather than a word-play on the repeating of past efforts.
"We have a lot of appreciation for vintage amps, sounds, words," says Cuddy. "Somehow a metaphor was formed that this was a Tremolo record. It was the breath of electricity. It had this repetitive up and down, some inhale some exhale. It was very referential to the music we were making while acknowledging that we use a lot of vintage ideas and sounds."
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