Jim Cuddy – The World According to Jim  

Photo: Christopher Gentile

Jim Cuddy is a national treasure. For 40 years he’s been crafting memorable vignettes with his songwriting partner Greg Keelor in Canada’s much-loved band Blue Rodeo, and they were recently recognized with the prestigious Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame Award. Jim has also carved out quite a niche for himself with a stellar solo career marked by his brand new album “All The World Fades Away”. Open Spaces first sat down with Jim in 1987 for a Music Express interview about Blue Rodeo’s debut album “Outskirts”, which contains such enduring fan staples as “Try” and “Rose-Coloured Glasses”.   It’s uplifting and slightly amazing to realize that 16 Blue Rodeo albums and six solo albums later, Jim is still at it.  

“What else would I do?”, the affable singer laughs over the phone from his Toronto residence. “I think that when we started we thought that music would never be our whole life. We wanted to start something we could do forever, but we had no idea where it would go.  Now I’m getting to an age where people around me ask me how I keep doing it, especially when it comes to touring.  I recognize now it’s all more tiring but I also recognize that I have a very strong constitution and that I’ll get through it.” 

 “All The World Fades Away” took three years to record, partly because Jim hit pause on the proceedings to take time to record and tour with Blue Rodeo. However, in the summer of 2023, he got his band back together to complete the album at The Woodshed Studio in the east end of Toronto. The record finds Jim in a reflective mood as evidenced by the opener and first single “Learn To Live Alone”, a number inspired by his relationship with his wife Rena Polley, an accomplished actor, writer and producer.  And while the song may be contemplative, Jim flashes what has become his songwriting calling card, a killer hook. 

“It’s autobiographical but it’s also meant to be a little comedic,” he explains. “Independence is very important in a relationship and long-term relationships need to have each person spend time alone. My wife and I get that in spades because I’m away a lot, sometimes too much.  But to a certain extent, it’s healthy that she has an independent life. I don’t get that time very much because I’m usually on the road with my band or doing something. When my wife does go away on her own it seems like it’s going to be a big thrill for me, because I’m going to get a chance to do all of these things that I don’t get a chance to do but, ultimately, none of them appeal to me. I don’t want to stay up all night, I don’t want to get drunk and I already see friends, so the time alone is probably the best thing.”

“As far as hooks go, I have a sense of how I want to write a song and I have certain things that are attractive to me. I just latch onto things that I like. If I get something that I like I’ll put it on my phone. I now have three phones on my bedside bureau that I have to keep charged because they all have these little bits of songs. It’s a bizarre thing and thankfully my wife is very tolerant of them.” 

The video for “Learn To Live Alone” is by director and editor Jenn Grant who, among her many talents, also seems to be able to dictate the weather as she apparently ordered some early precipitation to fit the scene and song lyrics of “waking up to morning showers”. (“Whatever Jenn Grant wants, she gets,” he laughs. “All that stuff, the snow in the alley, it just looks so beautiful. She also added some amazing vocal harmonies to the song “Scars”. She toured with Blue Rodeo last year and I really got to know her. She’s just a dazzling personality and so much fun to be around.”)  

While most of the songs on the album fully display Jim’s optimistic outlook on life, there are a few heartbreaking moments such as “Impossible” a song for Jill Daum, wife of John Mann of Spirit of the West, who lost her husband quite young. (“I ran the song past Jill, who asked her son, who then wrote me a letter saying he understood it was about the undying love a parent has for their child. That was all the endorsement I needed”.) “You Belong” is another song about lost love, but in this case it’s about two lovers who meet up again years later. Jim’s storytelling skills are on full display on this one.

“I remember Steve Earle once said once said that the first line of a song is the most important and you have to create a visual for the people to connect with,” he says. “I’ve always been very conscious of this. Lost love is a very interesting thing because if you’re honest about it and have a chance to test and prove it, two people may not have the same recollection of their emotions for each other. In the song, the guy still has strong memories of the girl, but at a chance encounter when he sees her again, she doesn’t remember his name. I try and paint a picture of this the best that I can, and it’s a great thing when people can relate to it.” 

One of the rootsier tracks on the album is “Anywhere Else But Here”, with a lively fiddle and piano combination that moves the song along at a brisk pace. It has a vibe that’s devoid of the rock, pop, and hip-hop influences you’ll find in much of contemporary country.  

“I think if you’re young now and you’re presented with hip-hop, R&B country music as it exists today, you are part of the digital generation,” Jim begins. “I think a lot of kids don’t find that appealing and they look around and they see roots music with all kinds of people actually playing instruments and creating harmonies together. When we look at our audience and we see young people, whether it’s my band or Blue Rodeo, they’ve either come to us via their parents, because they grew up with their parents listening to the music, or they’ve just been disaffected by the most popular music of their generation and they long for something that’s different. The idea of roots is to actually learn an instrument, play it with others, and create some harmonic structure. It’s a whole lot different than the digital music that’s popular now.”

Perhaps the two most positive numbers on the album are “Everyday Angels”, which features his songwriting partner in crime Greg Keelor on guest vocals, and “All The World Fades Away”, although the song title of the latter doesn’t exactly suggest dancing for joy on the street. 

“I think the title track is a positive song and when you consider the whole line “All the world fades away when I’m with you”, it just seems like a classic American songbook line.  But if you look at the song title alone, “All The World Fades Away”, it could give people the idea that the song is a downer. I never intended it to be like that. I just thought that it was a very positive thing, but maybe that’s not my strength (laughs).

“Everyday Angels” is about an attitude toward the world. I love life, I love what I do, and I love the people around me. That’s why in that song I wanted to have the dialogue between the nervous protagonist and the Greek chorus saying “Come on, get over yourself”.  I think that Greg and I share this kind of sarcastic sense of humour. It’s not always the most palpable for people around us but that’s what we find funny. We wanted to write this call and response and we wanted the response to be a little bit snippy. It was kind of this perfect little representation of the repartee that always happens between us.”

For a record so brimming with buoyancy, Jim ends things with the decidedly melancholic “Say Goodbye”. The song marks the end of a couple’s relationship with the understanding that “Everything has its time.”  

“I’ve always been drawn to melancholic music, and one of the things that first attracted me as a teenager was Jackson Browne’s plaintive voice and songs. I think that just leaving things on kind of a sweet but sad note is kind of a nice way to end the record. I think it’s got beautiful music in it and it has a sort of hypnotic beat. It also allowed me to use one of those little fragments I had on my phone from maybe six years ago. See, my system works.”   

Artwork for Jim Cuddy’s new album ‘All The World Fades Away’

While Jim has seen several members of Blue Rodeo come and go over the years, he still reflects fondly on the founding members and those halcyon days of the band’s first recording in 1987. 

“Our original drummer, Cleave Anderson, was so much a part of the band’s formation,” Jim recalls. “We weren’t forming it to be famous, but to be a good musical combo and to be friends. Cleave was so much a part of that. He quit the band to stay with his family. He knew he wanted to retire early and just play music and he must play with six or seven local bands in Toronto. He’s so happy about it and it’s just a joy when I run into him.”

One musician that Jim doesn’t run into very often is Geddy Lee. But at a recent tribute to Gordon Lightfoot in Toronto, he found himself at the same microphone as the Rush frontman, and it certainly produced a photo opportunity for the ages. 

“Because Geddy and Alex (Lifeson) were there, the media for them was all over the place,” Jim says. “I’m, like, if you want to get your face in Variety or Rolling Stone Magazine, be right beside Geddy Lee. That strategy will work every time.”  

Jim and his band will be touring across Canada this year and he will be performing a handful of summer dates with Blue Rodeo.

Roman Mitz - For Open Spaces

Open Spaces is a monthly column by Roman Mitz, covering the up-and-coming in the country music scene across Canada.

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