Jim Cuddy at the Winspear on Jan. 4
Jim Cuddy only had two things in mind when making his latest solo album, Countrywide Soul.
“The impetus was to show off the band, because they’re such great players, but also I knew I wanted to set up and record in the barn of my farm,” Cuddy relays from said acreage in Southern Ontario, where the singer-songwriter and co-frontman for Blue Rodeo often resides when not on the road. “These are seasoned musicians, so we just set up and knocked the record out in three and a half days. You can’t make something like that unless you’re playing with people of that calibre.”
Cuddy should know; he plays with two of them (bassist Bazil Donovan and guitarist Colin Cripps) in Blue Rodeo, while drummer Joel Anderson, keyboardist Steve O’Connor, and violinist Anne Lindsay all boast impressive and eclectic recording and performance credentials. With them he set about re-imagining or revamping old solo and Blue Rodeo songs (Dragging On; Clearer View), laid down a couple of favoured covers (Rhinestone Cowboy; Almost Persuaded), and tracked two brand new efforts in Glorious Day and Back Here Again.
We spoke with Cuddy about the new album, revisiting old songs, and the relative merits of country emo.
Q: I guess the most obvious question would be why did you decide to revisit your old songs? Is it because you were dissatisfied with the versions that came out?
A: I can’t speak for Greg (Keelor, co-frontman for Blue Rodeo), but my dissatisfaction level is generally pretty low when it comes to what we’ve done. That being said, I never felt like a song like Clearer View (from 2002’s Palace of Gold) was finished, that it didn’t have a conclusion. Things seemed to go too fast with that one, and it never sat well with me.
Q: But now that they’ve been around for decades I imagine most listeners can’t really hear them any other way.
A: It makes me wonder whether an artist’s assessment of their own songs is not the most revelatory. I was thinking of Spirit of the West, because of stuff I’ve done with them; the song Home for a Rest was an afterthought on that record (Save This House), something they were messing around with when the producer asked if they had anything else at the end of the session. Now they’re primarily known for that song.
Q: The Clash threw Train in Vain on to London Calling as an afterthought, and it became one of their biggest hits. There was no time to polish it up or overthink it.
A: I remember when that came out, and it definitely did not sound like The Clash! From my own experience I find that my first thoughts on a song are my best thoughts, and that the more I work on it I either smooth things out or it becomes repetitive. It’s a weird thing, and maybe it’s intellectual; you put so much effort into a song, so much depth in the lyrics, and yet something simple and memorable has an impact on an audience. That’s equal measures exciting and depressing.
Q: When you said first thought best thought I thought of Kerouac.
A: I’ve read a lot of Kerouac in my time. Sometimes it’s true, sometimes not; look at the endless revisions Leonard Cohen went through to make perfect poetry. Then there’s the story about how he asked Dylan how long it took to write Blowing in the Wind, and Dylan said “I dunno, half an hour?” Meanwhile, Cohen was in the middle of writing a song that took five years. It was probably Hallelujah.
Q: Back to Countrywide Soul, you’ve added a couple of cover songs, one by Glen Campbell (Rhinestone Cowboy), the other a country classic (Almost Persuaded).
A: When we first started we did a rocked up cover of Galveston, and I’ve done versions of By the Time I Get to Phoenix and Wichita Lineman. When I was younger I put them in the category of country pop; not important, but fun. Then at a certain point my prejudices started to fade and I saw Rhinestone Cowboy as something more. It’s a clever little song with great chord structure, and a lot is going on in under three minutes.
Q: It’s a fairly faithful cover.
A: Well, listen; what do you think about people who record songs and kind of miss the point of it? I heard a cover of Our House by Madness; it was slow and vibe-y with synths, and to me it missed what the song was about, which is this crazy, boisterous street where all kinds of things went on. I don’t think they knew what the song was about.
Q: That’s an example of a band ignoring what a song is about in their rush to put their own stamp on it. A better example of someone mining a different perspective is Aztec Camera, who did a mournful, acoustic version of Van Halen’s Jump that forever changed how you thought of the song.
A: (Country singer) Ruston Kelly, who I really like, did an album of emo covers. He was playing the Horsehoe Tavern (in Toronto) and my daughter told me about this record. At first I was like, that’s…horrible. I know very few of the original versions, but when I finally listened I was impressed. He brought the songs to me, and there was an integrity to it.
Jim Cuddy Band
With: Oh Susannah
When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Winspear Centre
Tickets: $48.55 and up, available from the Winspear box office or in advance from the website