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on January 8, 2011
After the disappointing The Days In Between, Blue Rodeo did the greatest hits deal, and added horns to the mix for the first time on a couple new tracks. That carried over to their greatest hits tour where they added that horn section to old classics like "Diamond Mine". I remember the trumpet player during a killer solo during that song when I saw them live in Stratford Ontario at their annual winter show at the Festival.
Palace of Gold is the album that followed and it also has horns and strings added to the sound. The end result was a rejuvanated Blue Rodeo, more happy-go-lucky in general this time out, sounding excited to be playing again.
The opening track "Palace of Gold" is a Greg rocker with some floaty catchy keys from James Gray. Glenn Milchem's drums propel the song forward excitedly. This is followed by a cool mid-tempo Jim song that reminded me of some of the material on his first solo album. This song, "Holding On", in addition to being really catchy also contains some of Jim's trademark introspective lyrics.
Some tasty mandolin work introduces Greg's "Homeward Bound Angel", another uptempo track. Horns are introduced here for the first time on Palace of Gold. This is now three standout songs in a row, but that's just a preface to "Bulletproof", a slow-burner Jim ballad and first single. Similar in style and tempo to previous ballads like "Try" or "After the Rain", "Bulletproof" is not as immediate. After a few listens, you won't be able to get Jim's mournful chorus out of your head. It is backed by lush strings.
Reverb intrudices "Comet", the first song that is below standard. It is a trippy psychedelic Greg tune with what sounds like therimin, and strings. I'm just not keen on this one as I find it inferior to other similar concepts from Greg such as "Girl In Green".
Some fast punky chords are followed by deep fat horns and Bazil Donovan's bouncy bassline. This is Jim's "Walk Like You Don't Mind", another highlight. A Blue Rodeo rave-up, this is the kind of sound I love from them, especially live. "Love Never Lies" contains more strings, but this Jim ballad sound suspicously like "New Year's Day" from his solo album.
One of my favourite songs is track 8, "Stage Door". Greg's lyric always inspires hoots and hollars from the crowd: "Ain't no mystery, what I need / is understanding and your sweet sympathy / A steel string guitar and a little weed / Someone to keep me company." The arrangement contains both strings and horns, and of all the songs on this album, "Stage Door" amalgamates these instruments most successfully.
It's hard to follow a song like that. I'm not in love with the next song, Jim's "Cause for Sympathy". The verses are pretty dull, although it does boast a very nice chorus which both Jim and Greg sing together. Likewise I usually snooze through the following track, "What A Surprise" sung by Greg.
"Clearer View", sung by Jim, returns the album to outstanding songcraft. It is a fast rocker with a really bouncy horn arrangement. Once again Glenn Milchem's drumming acts as a shot of adrenaline to propel the song forward. However the album slides back again with the snoozy "Glad to be Alive" courtesy of Greg. This dreamy song sounds like a slide guitar laden lullaby. Another slow tune follows, Jim's "Find a Way to Say Goodbye". I'm not really into this song either, although there are some punchy horns during the chorus that are quite tasty. The final song is yet another snoozer from Greg Keelor called "Tell Me Baby". I think unfortunately that Palace of Gold slides a bit at the end, and contains a few too many lacklustre slow songs.
Fortunately there is a US edition of this album which contains an additional three songs that kick the album back up a notch at the end. These three songs are live tunes and only one is a ballad! "The Railroad", which I am pretty sure is a cover, is a fast country rocker. "Bad Timing" is of course one of Jim's most classic ballads of all time. The final song is another rocker, "You're Everywhere", and that closes the album in style.
If you can get the 17 track version as opposed to the 14 track, I think you are in for a much better listening experience.