Between an unlikely combination of Southern piano bar blues and heartfelt classic country tunes, we find the distinct and deviously charming voice of Devin Cuddy. Among the clang of dirty glassware and shouts in a drunken barroom haze, his rusted old piano notes and versatile arrangements ring clear as day in the ever-eclectic Canadian music mash-up.
In response to the burning question on everyone’s mind, Cuddy is indeed the son of roots/country legend Jim Cuddy, more widely known from his contributions to the incomparably talented Blue Rodeo. However large the shadow cast from his father may be, the younger Cuddy seems to have no trouble not only making his own name but creating a unique and formidable sound to keep listeners desperate for more.
“I haven’t struggled with carving out my own path, not yet at least,” he says. “I’ve met a lot of great people through the Blue Rodeo connection and had the good fortune and some doors opened for me. I imagine the difficulty will come in the future, as I try to define myself as an artist and solidify my sound.”
Solidifying a distinct sound and artistic appeal has been an easy task for the young singer songwriter. Volume One, Cuddy’s debut, is an absolute gem. So many of the tracks echo with a nostalgic glow of past styles, characteristic of the old New Orleans blues and jazz scene, with a unique twist and playful writing.
“I was about 14 years old, searching my father’s CD collection, looking for something new. I found a Louis Armstrong record in there and immediately fell in love. I’m not sure what it was about the music. ‘Fun’ is the word that comes to mind. I think there was something about the imagery of old New Orleans that really captured me. From there, I branched out to influences of his and bands that he influenced. It was a little later that embraced the roots/country influence of my dad.”
Fun is a quintessential component of Cuddy’s record. Songs like “My Son’s A Queer” are an absolute riot to listen to – the lazed drawl of a blue country tune with such a tongue-in-cheek message are original and outstanding. In addition, the musicianship on the album is definitely notable: Nichol Robertson, a Toronto guitar player with truly model country chops, was a particular highlight.
“Well I saw Nichol playing in a Toronto-based band, called Friendly Rich & the Lollypop People. He was just flying out there, fantastic playing. So, when it came time to form a band (I had played solo before that), I knew I had to ask him.”
The remarkable maturity and tight progressions of the album demonstrate a particular perfectionism. It seems daunting to attempt a full-length record on the first go-round, however Cuddy proves that with careful consideration, this was a wise decision.
“Well, because this was my first record, these songs were written over the last seven years. We’d been playing these songs for a year as a band so they had taken form by the time we recorded them. The one song I really enjoyed writing and arranging was ‘My Son’s a Queer.’ As it was taking form, I kept thinking of Randy Newman, my favourite artist, and wondering if he would like it or if he would think I was ripping his style. One day I hope it makes its way onto his desk!”
Within a world of makeshift musical mix-ups, the wonderful pairing of Cuddy’s southern swing and true blue grit make an excellent pairing, almost reminiscent of Justin Townes Earle, but just a little more cheeky. Even among these unlikely combinations, rich with whimsical melodies and sharp turnarounds, the songs are blessed with true Canadian roots/country sensibility. The majority of Cuddy’s musical upbringing was spent in the thriving artistic metropolis of Toronto and, with such an exceptional blend of sounds, it comes as no surprise that he has been noticed by Cameron House Records. For many of the singer-songwriters in Cuddy’s genre, the perspective tends to span from a smaller, rural community. Songs of prairie grasses, hiding among small town folk and drowning sorrows while chasing the dimming lights where streets have no markers.
“T.O. is a great place to make any music. Lots of great clubs to play in and lots of music lovers. I have been very fortunate to be a part of a roots scene in T.O. to come out of The Cameron House, a classic Queen St. bar that was around when my dad was playing. It’s home to many like-minded musicians and talented people.”
However different Cuddy’s perspective may be, this generation of listeners would still be wrong to discard Volume One as anything but a blues/folk record. What it lacks in small town portraits, it more than makes up in honesty for its paintings of big city piano bops and real honky tonk tunes. For such a promising first release, Cuddy seems humble and ready to share more of his wit and musical charm on another disc.
“The reception has been great. It’s my first record, so it’s all about touring and getting it out there, letting people know what we’re all about. We have started our second record, eight tracks done, and we’re looking to release it in June. We’re going for a bigger sound but with the same kind of songs and vibe.”
The month of January brings over a month’s touring with Blue Rodeo, a first for the father-son combination on the road. Listeners can look forward to being absolutely enchanted with the young Cuddy’s promising sound and wowed with Rodeo’s ever-reminiscent twang.
“For me it’s cool because I’ve been going to these shows since I was a kid, now, when their sound check is over, I get to take the stage. Really looking forward to that.”
Catch Devin Cuddy open for Blue Rodeo at the Orpheum Theatre (Vancouver) on January 2 and 3, Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre (Victoria) on January 4, SAIT Jubilee Auditorium (Calgary) on January 10 and 11, the Northern Alberta Jubilee (Edmonton) on January 17 and 18 and at the MTS Centre (Winnipeg) on January 23. He’ll also be playing a free after-show at the Palomino (Calgary) on January 10.
By Mariel Buckley