Utmost Blue

All sorts of hip musical movements have grown up around Toronto's Blue Rodeo, from the odd Canadian country of the Cowboy Junkies and pre-Ingenue k.d. lang to America's so-called No Depression bands, which are creeping across the continent like half-lemming/half-George Jones creatures. The thing is, Blue Rodeo proverbially rode into town over a decade ago -- at the end of the Eagles' first long run -- and their brand of melancholic, pop-accented country-rock has more in common with Gram Parsons and Pure Prairie League than it does with Hank Thompson or Son Volt.

And contextually, who cares? Because Blue Rodeo, a multi-platinum act in their home country, is something of a delicious secret in the States, an act whose catalog is well worth discovering. Over the course of six mostly wonderful, effortlessly lovely, constantly explorative records, the band has constructed an estimable body of work.

With Tremolo, their seventh effort, Blue Rodeo has found yet another way to keep the frequently tired country-rock genre sounding interesting. For one thing, they recorded the entire CD in a remarkably short time, laying down a new tune every day to preserve freshness. Further, songwriters/guitarists/vocalists Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy brought in a new song to the rest of the band only after the previous one was in the can -- and only on the day each piece was to be recorded. As such, bassist Bazil Donovan, drummer Glenn Milchem, keyboardist James Gray and lap/pedal steel guitarist Kim Deschamps were forced to react to the new material instinctively.

"We [tend to] get too caught up in conceptualizing when we think too much," says Cuddy. "Our instincts are pretty good. If we go with that, it will be something we all like. We trusted our intuition. First thought, best thought." Listening to the new album, then, is like being on hand at a rehearsal at the precise, magical instant when a new song coalesces and the band runs through it for the first time knowing it works. Indeed, while Tremolo echoes the stay-with-you melodies and rural harmonic comforts of such previous triumphs as Five Days in July and Nowhere to Hear, the haunting and mature sound of tunes such as "Moon & Tree," "Beautiful Blue" and "Disappear" anchor a strongly consistent and singularly new-sounding CD.

Blue Rodeo's is a stark seduction -- their sound is one that could probably not have developed if the bandmembers had grown up in Austin or Los Angeles -- and Tremolo is gorgeous proof that there's no reason to expect their work to grow tired. Life, its melange of experiences and the chemistry singular to Blue Rodeo guarantees that. And it guarantees it live as well as recorded, even if by now they do know the songs a little bit better than when they were recorded.

-- Rick Koster

Blue Rodeo performs with the Blazers at 9 p.m. Thursday, October 16, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $8. For info, call 869-COOL.

Sneaker Pimps -- Don't be fooled by the computer-chip motif that dominates the cover of their much-praised Becoming X debut; Sneaker Pimps are megabytes less sterile than such vaguely futuristic packaging would have you believe. With their vulnerable heroin-chic aura, habitually funky, folk-pop melodies and keen adherence to the basic ingredients that make a tune memorable, the Pimps display an appealing humanity and depth of character that flouts the washed-out trip-hop trendiness with which they are often affiliated. This coed trio of Brits might be a tardy arrival on the gadgetry-as-art bandwagon, but in deftly balancing a crumbling sci-fi atmosphere with an eerily romantic friction, they easily transcend technology's limitations. If Blade Runner had a sequel, the Pimps could provide the perfect soundtrack. Or, at the very least, they'd be on the radio in Deckard's Spinner as he jets across the horizon toward a rendezvous in eternity with his replicant lover. Tuesday, October 21, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $14. 629-3700. (Hobart Rowland)

Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys -- One of my old college buddies had a disciplined weekly regimen fueled by an inviolate set of musical soundtracks: Chopin for studying; Duke Ellington for weightlifting; Ted Nugent for highway driving; Tangerine Dream for drug play; and Chet Baker for sexual frolic. I've lost touch with my friend over the years, and I can't imagine that he still parties like he once did, but in the event that he does, I hope he's discovered Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, who ought to be household names wherever Western swing is revered. Big Sandy -- a.k.a. Robert Williams -- pens cozy, dance-floor gems that remain tied to the Bob Wills/ Milton Brown/Cliff Buner tradition while maintaining a just-outta-Sandy's-brain freshness, and his way with a melody and a phrase are, as my friend might say, vitamin-strength fun. At 9 p.m. Wednesday, October 22, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $6. Reckless Kelly opens. 869-


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