Perhaps the flaming building in the background of the cover represented Blue Rodeo‘s idea of approximately trashing the old model and rising like a Phoenix from the ashes? Pure speculation on that, but there’s no question the Toronto alt-country or roots rock band shook things up a little for their fifth album, Five Days in July. The album which came out this day in 1993 at home (American fans had to wait the best part of a year before it was released in the U.S.) tried out a new lineup and a new way of making the record. Evidently it worked. It became their best-seller, in their Canada at least, and seems to be one of the most-beloved still by the group and its fans.
Blue Rodeo had been one of the most unexpected Canadian music success stories of the ’80s, carving out a niche for their music on both pop and country radio despite initially being told they were too country for rock or pop and too pop for country. Their first two albums were regarded as masterpieces of Americana music, going multi-platinum in their homeland. Their third,’90’s Casino, was a hit and generated several well-loved singles, but had them working with Dwight Yoakam band member Pete Anderson in the States to record, and they figured it came out too glossy or slick-sounding. Which led to working with another American producer for their fourth album, LosTogether, which coincided with co-leader Greg Keelor having problems with prescription pain-killers and internal fighting with keyboardist Bobby Wiseman. The result was an album which fell off in sales and wasn’t highly regarded in most circles. So for this, their fifth record, they shifted gears, dropping Wiseman and bringing in a new keyboardist, James Gray, and producing the album themselves after recording it in a very casual setting at Keelor’s farm in the hills east of Toronto. Although the album was at first only going to be demos, they and Warner Bros. liked the sound and the relaxed feel of the songs and ended up working on those original takes to make Five Days in July.
The result was a solid collection of 11 low-fi love and love-loss songs, ten originals written by Keelor and Jim Cuddy, with the first cover song they’d recorded added in, “Til I Gain Control Again”, a Rodney Crowell song originally done by Emmylou Harris. Also new to the album were a handful of backup singers, most notably Sarah McLachlan who added her voice to a trio of the songs including “Dark Angel.”
The album itself topped out at #8 in Canada, fourth in a string of 12-straight to hit the top 10, but with its long chart-life it ended up 6X platinum, best of any of their studio albums. “Bad Timing” made the top 20 but the two standouts were the semi-title track, “Five Days in May” (written loosely about Cuddy’s own romance with his wife) and “Hasn’t hit Me Yet”, both top 10 hits. The trio brought them to nine top 20 singles in their homeland in a matter of six years.
As recently as early last decade, they were still playing at least half the album at every concert, which shows how well it’s aged with their fanbase. They say no matter where they are, a loud cheer goes up when Keelor mentions “Lake Ontario” in “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”; seems there are always Canadians following them around no matter how far afield.
Allmusic rated it 4-stars, which perhaps was a bit low given that they gush over it, calling it their “best album”, with the “band at its most epic, brave and experimental”, a “pretty mellow affair” offering “proof positive as to why they have remained Canada’s all-time best group since.” Vice magazine likewise loved it, noting the similarity in feel to Neil Young’s Harvest and reminding readers that Hank Snow was Canadian. “There’s a space between the heartbreak of classic country and the puppy love of modern pop and its name is Blue Rodeo,” they add. Guess you could say Blue Rodeo “harvest”ed a pretty good crop from that one week on the farm!