1000 Arms Blue Rodeo (Warner Music Canada) *****+I’ve been a fan of Blue Rodeo since the 80’s, but haven’t thoroughly and completely enjoyed an album of theirs this much since Lost Together in 1992.Recorded during the winter of 2015/16 at their own Woodshed Studios, the album shares its name with a track penned by Jim Cuddy, inspired by a podcast he was listening to. “(It) was about allowing your community to help you” Jim says. “When we were going over titles, we were thinking about our musical community, what it means to us and how much we do for each other. That was what we were thinking about the most, so it seemed like an appropriate title.”If you find that 1000 Arms reminds you of classic Blue Rodeo, at least part of the credit goes to producer Tim Vesely, a founding member of Rheostatics. Tim had been listening to some of the band’s older albums and noted that Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor weren’t singing together as much these days as they used to. “We made a very concerted effort to sing together on this album, either with direct harmonies or call and response” says Cuddy, “and we really enjoyed that.”It’s not a term I usually use to describe a Blue Rodeo disc, but I’d call 1000 Arms vivacious. Vesely brings out the best in the band while pushing them and reminding them what’s great about Blue Rodeo to begin with. It also rocks a little more than usual, and that’s a bonus.
ESSENTIALS: Hard To Remember, 1000 Arms, Superstar
RIDE OR DIE Devon Allman (Ruf) *** ½ The third solo album from this former member of Royal Southern Brotherhood- and, of course, Gregg Allman’s son- is groovy, soulful blues that trades in some heavy ideas. This is a guy that doesn’t like to sit still… like chorus line in Galaxies says; “When galaxies collide/ will you ride or die?”“The world is getting crazier by the minute” Devon says. “These songs are about pain, addiction, storms, lust, death, and feeling sometimes that you’re utterly lost. But conversely, it’s about finding your place in the universe, rebirth, strength, redemption (and) vindication.” If you’re familiar at all with Allman’s work with RSB or his solo records (2013’s Turquoise and 2014’s Ragged & Dirty) then his willingness to dig deep will come as no surprise.Ride Or Die was co-produced by Devon and Tom Hambridge, a go-to guy for blues musicians, with a rich, enveloping sound. Allman’s roots would of course be in the blues, but there’s more to this disc than that. “Blues was born down south and it’s a massive part of the culture” he says, “but the blues is a very open entity in my mind.” The blues is the glue that helped construct this record, but the soul and pop influences lift your spirit too. Hell, he even covers The Cure’s A Night Like This.Famous last name aside Ride Or Die is a solid album, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s a better singer than his dad. This is one of those records that really sticks with you.
ESSENTIALS: Galaxies, Vancouver, Butterfly Girl
HIGH TEMPERATURE JW Jones (Solid Blues Records) *** This is JW’s 9th set and the third one in my collection. This follow-up to the Juno nominated Belmont Boulevard is a smooth and groovy pleasure.High Temperature was produced by Colin Linden, known as a member of Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, along with producing records for people like Bruce Cockburn and Colin James. “I’ve been a fan of Colin’s for as long as I have been recording” says JW, “and to finally get a chance to work with him was really special. His spirit and energy in the studio brought out inspired performances from everyone in the room, and the results are better that I could have imagined.” Some producers have an identifiable sound- Jeff Lynn, T-Bone Burnett and others- but there isn’t a ‘Colin Linden sound’- his focus is making the artists the best they can be, and he certainly succeeds here.High Temperature sounds like a blues record with jazz and pop overtones- a nice, versatile sound in a day when things must be labeled and pigeon-holed. 13 tracks in all; 5 written by Jones and 3 from Linden, along with covers of tunes by Lonnie Mack, Leon Russell, Charlie Rich and Little Walter, along with a song I recall Three Dog Night doing back in the day; Murder In My Heart For The Judge.JW’s evolution has been subtle but obvious over his last few records, and he’s just made a disc for forward thinking blues aficionados. As Buddy Guy says, “This young man is part of the people that will keep the blues alive.” Amen to that.
ESSENTIALS: Who I Am, Price You Pay, Same Mistakes
STRONG LIKE THAT The Fabulous Thunderbirds (Severn) ***I’ve been listening to a lot of blues with soul this week, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds also fit the bill. Strong Like That is almost more of a Motown than a blues vibe but hey, it’s a big world and that’s just fine by me.The T-Birds strike a sweet balance between mournful blues and all the joy of soul music on Strong Like That, so this could very well appeal to listeners beyond their usual fan base. I remember them from the 80’s with hits like Wrap It Up and Tough Enough (which I have on their Greatest Hits), and this almost feels like a different band. Kim Wilson’s vocals and lowdown harp work are still the main appeal for The Fabseart For The Judge. Heart and the relaxed so-in-the-pocket-it’s-ridiculous playing of the rest of the band is most enjoyable.Everybody in The Fabulous Thunderbirds has to be musically versatile, able to play rock, blues, soul, R&B, and on Strong Like That this Texas blues band is stretching their muscles towards Detroit. The confident, nuanced playing and the joy of these performances makes this disc… well, fabulous company.
ESSENTIALS: Smooth, (I Know) I’m Losing You, Strong Like That
TAKE ME HIGH Laurence Jones (Ruf) **** ¾ This is the 4th album for what is arguably the UK’s hottest young guitar slinger. Hooking up with one of blues/rock’s most legendary producers in Mike Vernon has resulted in an action packed set that’s sure to help break a few speed limits.Vernon recorded everyone from Eric Clapton to Peter Green in the 60’s and now works with the best of the new generation. He and Jones have been trying to get together since 2013, but schedules haven’t allowed it until now. “It was a great feeling to know that Mike wanted to do this record” says Jones.During preproduction, Laurence and Mike decided on a concept, that the album would flow “kinda like a book, so you’d listen to it from start to finish and it would make sense” says Jones, “but also capture the ferocious attitude of a packed club show.” Take Me High certainly has the chops and swagger to claim success in that department. It flows just like a wave with peaks and valleys, ebbs and flows- just like a good story.Laurence has a great singing voice for this kind of music, and his guitar playing is down and dirty. Basic tracks were done in 10 days, and they sounded even better than Jones hoped after Vernon finished mixing them at his home in Spain. “He sent me the stuff over and it was like ‘Wow’” says Laurence. “He just fattened everything up, it was just a completely different sound because of him- I’m so happy with this album!” And he should be- Take Me High is one of this year’s shining lights.
ESSENTIALS: The Price I Pay, Addicted To Your Love, Down & Blue