Blue Rodeo is the quintessential laid-back Canadian band, and Jim Cuddy is their voice. Since their first release, Outskirts, 25 years ago, their ear pleasing, non-offensive blend of country and rock – think “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” and “Lost Together” — has been part of the psyche of our music scene. On his third solo album, Skyscraper Soul, Cuddy isn’t trying to duplicate the melodies or arrangements of his band’s catalogue, but rather putting the poetic voice in his head to music.
The title track hits a singer-songwriter stride — an introspective song built around an acoustic guitar with carefully placed accompaniment from his assemblage of troubadours known as the Jim Cuddy Band. The tune is catchy, but its primary concern is being conversational — it does its job of romanticizing life in Toronto, and sets the somewhat melancholic, somewhat optimistic, tone of the record.
“Everyone Watched the Wedding,” bursts at the seams with the central struggle of happiness intruding on misery, or vice-versa — the latter, in this case. It’s beautifully crafted, and as soon as you drift into carefree bliss, you’re pulled back into reality:
“Everyone watched the wedding, two people in love / Two people whose blessing comes from higher up above / They’re not like you and me, they were destined to be / Oh everyone watched the wedding, couldn’t get enough / At least for one moment we were right there up above / Looking down on all that royal fuss / Monday we were back upon the bus.”
The rest of Skyscraper Soul is the logical result of the initial triumvirate of songs — the aforementioned, separated by the upbeat (but, again, with troubling subtext) “Regular Days.” It’s a slow exhale that offers some moments of great writing – “Banks of the 49” is a centrepiece of yearning with a memorable chorus – but never quite lives up to the musical expectations the first 15 minutes sets up. The remainder of the album isn’t filler, but it’s more personal and more concentrated in taking you by the hand rather than speaking to the masses all at once. It demands that you listen to it, rather than just at it.
The vocal approach, and even to some extent the writing style, aren’t completely separate from something by Blue Rodeo, yet Skyscraper Soul as an album could not have been released by the band and still maintain its simplistic sincerity. It’s similar to the way that a film adaptation of a book has a different technique to entice audiences than the source material; neither is necessarily better, but the intimate, personal narration can get right to the soul if your tastes align and you give it the chance. A mature country sound pervades the record as Cuddy deals with sadness and regrets in a way that denies pity — all he is looking for is someone to listen to “a flower that comes where the sun never goes.”