Blue Rodeo

Are You Ready

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The Canadian band's tenth studio album follows 2002's Palace of Gold, which found Blue Rodeo reinvigorated and ready to occasionally break out of the country-pop-rock mold that they are inextricably linked to. The ostentatious horns and strings of the group's previous release are gone (except for the stray solo trumpet on the closing two tracks), replaced with a British Invasion feel for the opening cuts. But after the twangy guitars appear on the third song, Rodeo play to their strengths. That's not a bad thing, though, as both founding guitarist/vocalists Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy have crafted some particularly earnest and soulful country-rock that stands with their best work. Cuddy's clean-cut, ageless voice, somewhat similar to Jackson Browne, sounds terrific on strummy ballads such as "Great Lakes," "Rena," "Runaway Train," and the beautiful "I Will," all tunes that will sound familiar to established fans. Similarly, Keelor's "Stuck on You," "Up That Cloud," and "Phaedra's Meadow" glow with his traditional scruffy, moody resignation, highlighted by Paddy Malone's somber tin whistle and Uilleann pipes on the latter. His epic for the album is the six-plus-minute "Tired of Pretending," a somber piece that grows in edgy intensity and volume as it progresses, with Keelor shifting from a whisper to a hoarse howl. It's the opening songs that signal the most distinctive break with Blue Rodeo tradition, as both "Can't Help Wondering Why" and the title track tap into retro British Invasion territory with tough garage rocking results, somewhat like what Tom Petty occasionally plays. Ultimately, though, this is another in a long line of quality Blue Rodeo albums that takes enough chances to keep the band from getting stale while also staying the course. It may not win many new listeners but will please the group's existing admirers, and it provides Blue Rodeo with a handful of tracks that are as powerful and moving as anything in their extensive catalog.

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