Blue Rodeo, Are You Ready

After over a decade of perfecting country rock and acoustic ballads, Blue Rodeo returns with their 12th studio release and they wisely stick to what they do best. Compared to 2002's Palace of Gold, Ready is stripped of any bloated horn sections and is more focused on the band's dynamics — because of this, songs like "Up On That Cloud" and the Orbison-esque "Are You Ready" are tighter. Other highlights that will please fans include first single "Rena," the toe tapping "Can't Help Wondering Why," Greg Keelor's "Tired of Pretending," and Jim Cuddy's "Runaway Train." These last two tracks are the best examples of Keelor’s and Cuddy's emotional vocal range, which grow stronger with age. The only dull moment of the record is the Celtic influenced "Phaedra's Meadow" which starts off with a scary premonition — "I would never kill a man, but I would do him harm, knowing that you're there, lying in his arms" — but fails to capture the imagination musically as it just meanders around never really matching the intensity of the lyrics. What's most remarkable about Blue Rodeo is that they still write really catchy songs that deal with the trials and joys of love, relationships, and manage to make it sound fresh. Are You Ready once again solidifies Blue Rodeo as Canada's most consistent and beloved bands. (WEA) Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Stars

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