October 21, 2014
Ty Gretzky, Julian Lennon, Jakob Dylan…when you choose to follow the same career path as your famous parent, you invariably set yourself up for criticism and comparisons. Such is the course that Devin Cuddy knew he had ahead of him. As the son of Blue Rodeo singer-songwriter Jim Cuddy, one of the best-known and recognized singers in Canada, Devin Cuddy has taken his steps with eyes wide open and no illusions.
Born the same week Blue Rodeo began recording its 1987 debut album, Outskirts, Devin was drawn to playing music in his own way. While the country-rock of his father’s band had been the soundtrack to his entire life, Devin was determined to get as close as possible to the sources of all the sounds he loved. Whether that meant rock ‘n’ roll, the Grand Ole Opry, or Jelly Roll Morton, he took it all in. “I came upon those influences as a teenager, just from picking through my father’s CD collection and going out from there to related artists,” he said in a 2012 CBC interview. “Then in college I found something about country music that I probably still can’t really describe, but that really calls to me and affects me.”
Mastering that variety and developing his craft in front of an audience were important lessons Devin learned from his dad. After a significant period of writing original songs and honing them with his band (guitarist Nichol Robertson, Zack Sutton on drums, and Devon Richardson on bass), the first Devin Cuddy Band album, Volume One was released in 2012. The songs, written over a period of seven years, put an emphasis on his barrelhouse keyboard playing, while also showcasing a Jazz-Blues-Swing feel in many of the songs.
When it came time to record their sophomore album, the band went in to the studio with a different approach. “I brought all the new tunes to the studio, so the band hadn’t played most of them yet,” says Devin. The result is Kitchen Knife, released this past July. It shows a steady progression and maturity in both songwriting and musicianship.
Produced by his dad’s writing partner in Blue Rodeo, Greg Keelor, the new album once again takes the listener down some roads that you wouldn’t necessarily expect—that is if you’re expecting that Blue Rodeo ‘sound.’ As Devin says, “Each song was arranged as we heard it, very natural approach. We took more of a studio approach as opposed to the ‘live off the floor’ feel we had on the first record. You’ll hear more instruments, bigger sounds and a more realized sense of song.”
Devin’s description fits the album’s rollicking lead song, the New Orleans flavored title track:
The Devin Cuddy Band – “Kitchen Knife”
The album’s second cut and first single, “Forty Four,” takes a left turn and shows that every now and then the band is drawn to the sound of Blue Rodeo, and the country influences. Throughout the album, there are pleasant shifts in styles from the sweet swaying “Home” to the aptly titled gospel sound of “Gospel.”
The Devin Cuddy Band – “Home”
While he doesn’t sing with quite the same plaintive emotion that his father is known for, Devin uses an easy-going, laid-back approach that effectively draws the listener in. In songs such as “Town” and “Old Mary,” his vocal style evokes strong memories of Louisiana-born, Canada-bred singer-songwriter, Jesse Winchester. The musical roots and construction of some of the songs on Kitchen Knife seem to rise from tunes such as Winchester’s classic “Yankee Lady.”
It should be pointed out that while Devin is the obvious bandleader and principal songwriter, it is the solid work of the entire band as a cohesive unit that makes Kitchen Knife an impressive follow-up to Volume One. It goes without saying, but due to his background, high and unfair expectations can’t be avoided. However regardless of family connections, Devin Cuddy and his band are proving that they are ready to take the steps alone, and that they have earned the right to their own audience.