Palace of Gold
First Appeared at The Music Box, September 2003, Volume 10, #9
Written by John Metzger
Like most Canadian bands in recent history, Blue Rodeo has struggled to reach the U.S. market, and part of that reason may lie in the fact that the group seems to defy being placed within a particular niche. Over the course of its 18-year career, Blue Rodeo has released 9 studio albums, and while it has frequently delved into Byrds-tinged, alt-country fare, it also hasnít been afraid to tackle í70s-style AM pop or steamy Stax soul.
Never have its divergent tendencies been quite so apparent than on its latest release Palace of Gold, which adds sweeping string arrangements and a splattering of horns to the bandís sonic palette. Itís a magnificent effort, featuring some of the finest songs that the ensemble has ever recorded. The title track is a bubbly blast of sunshine pop as Bob Dylan-style keyboards glide over a bed of jangly guitar, while Homeward Bound Angel follows a similar path, but plays more to its country roots before mutating into a rousing gospel-soul exaltation. Elsewhere, Stage Door is a grandiose affair that expands upon the chamber folk-pop of Alejandro Escovedo; Clearer View charges headfirst into a Rolling Stones-flavored rocker while mixing in a bit of bubblegum pop; and Comet delves into the Moody Bluesí cosmic catalog with intriguing results.
Unfortunately, Palace of Gold also features a few duds such as Love Never Lies and Find a Way to Say Goodbye, both of which attempt to find the soaring emotional weight of Jackson Browne and Van Morrison, respectively, but ultimately miss the mark. The worst offender, however is Bulletproof, a corny, overwrought, pop ballad that brings the proceedings to a screeching halt, undermining some of the terrific music that follows. Even so, Blue Rodeo remains firmly committed to covering the sounds and styles of its influences rather than making them its own, causing parts of the album to feel a little forced.
Tagged onto the end of the rendition of Palace of Gold that was issued to the U.S. market are three bonus tracks, all of which were recorded in concert. The funny thing is that Blue Rodeo actually sounds more comfortable with these tunes than they do with those on the album. Bad Timing isnít all that different from the slow, sleepy ballads recorded for Palace of Gold, but in a live setting, the band loses the glossy air and permits the song to breathe in its organic, Band-like beauty. In addition, both the guitar-driven chug of The Railroad and the swinging Youíre Everywhere rock far harder than anything on the album. Itís enough to make one wonder if Blue Rodeo is a band better seen in concert; one that still hasnít figured out how to capture that magic within the confines of a studio.
Palace of Gold is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box