Jim Cuddy, photo by Christopher Gentile

How do you chronicle a life, especially as a widely acclaimed musician with a thousand hair-raising stories to tell, while simultaneously and simply documenting the present moment? And why would anyone assign themselves such a task?

As Jim Cuddy discovered making his dazzling new album, All The World Fades Away, that particular songwriting mission was less an option than an imperative, one that came for the Blue Rodeo co-founder out of a rare abundance of time to reflect, tinker, and create. Sure, most rootsy singer-songwriter albums detail what the artist sees looking up, down, and around. But All The World Fades Away goes deeper, its windscreen is wider, maybe because Cuddy is that rare musician with decades to draw from and whose story is very much an arc in progress.

“You sort of enter a dream state when you begin writing. And I’ve begun to wonder why some images have stayed with me over the years and others haven’t. So yes, this album is about looking back,” Cuddy shares from his hometown Toronto. “However, I tried to make sure the record is affirming of life as it is now, reflecting how much I like where I’m at today. It’s not wrapping up or being nostalgic for old times. It’s just… surveying.”

While most songs on All The World Fades Away map Cuddy’s unique compendium of memories and the emotions they stir, few marshal the sheer impact of the magisterial, tender “Impossible,” one of the album’s standout tracks. “It’s a song for Jill Daum, wife of John Mann of Spirit of the West. She lost her husband quite young.” After beating colorectal cancer in 2011, Mann succumbed to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2019 at just 57. “Jill and John’s son has struggled with mental health and lived on the street for a while. That’s an enormous amount of difficulty heaped on one person. A parent is only as happy as their least happy child. 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. I have played that song a lot and it’s remarkable who comes and talks to me about it afterwards. You just never know who is struggling with these issues.”

Fittingly for an album “surveying” the past, All The World Fades Away explores many relationships. Witness the album’s radiant openers, “Learn to Live Alone” and “You Belong.” Each examines different connections separated by decades but threaded through Cuddy’s personal narrative.

“If I were to look at the evolution of my very long relationship with my wife [actor Rena Polley], we have spent a lot of time apart,” Cuddy says of musically buoyant but slightly tear-stained”Learn to Live Alone,” which soars on his falsetto in the chorus. “Independence has become one of the foundational pieces of our relationship, and it has shaped the way we live. When I see other couples that do everything together, I can’t help but wonder how that’s possible.”

Then comes the pensive ballad “You Belong” which chronicles a romance from Cuddy’s early years. “This record was written with no deadline at our little country place during the pandemic. I had a lot of time to examine things and some of those things included past relationships. And yes, what’s described in the song happened,” Cuddy says, referring to bumping into the ex-lover at an event, where she blanked on his name. “I have no intention of rekindling anything but what was established in the time we spent together is as present now as it was then.” Cuddy chuckles when asked Polley’s reaction to the song. “She’s not threatened by it. She knows this is art and not biography.”

The prolonged gestation of the three-years-in-the-making All The World Fades Away helps explain Cuddy’s reflective mindset. Hitting pause on his solo record, Cuddy took time to record and tour with Blue Rodeo. However, in the summer of 2023, Cuddy got the band back together at The Woodshed Studio to complete the album. Co-producers Tim Vesely and Colin Cripps-also on guitar-were joined by drummer Joel Anderson, bassist Bazil Donovan, violinist Anne Lindsay, keyboardist Steve O’Connor and a marquee roster of guests including vocalist Jenn Grant.

“Colin and I have worked together from the very beginning so that’s very symbiotic. And Tim, who added percussion and vocals across the record, is brilliant. He helps us decide musical questions.”

Jenn Grant’s involvement with the project expanded beyond her vocal contribution on “Scars” after she gifted Cuddy a video for the song. Her multi-disciplinary work as both a visual artist and a musician gave her a singular perspective on Cuddy’s music. She ended up creating several videos for the album, bringing her unique visual style to support and highlight the powerful songwriting on the album.

Where one finds Cuddy, one often finds Keelor though rarely in the comically smug and sarcastic form captured by the new track “Everyday Angels.” It’s a chiming, guitar and violin-goosed corker that posits Cuddy as our “aw-shucks” protagonist guilelessly musing about this and that while Keelor snidely mocks him in call-and-response vocals. “It certainly has our shared humour,” Cuddy howls. “I sent the song to Greg; he sent it back with a few Beatles-inspired bits and we recorded it.”

He continues. “When Blue Rodeo started, I wrote songs with the intention of playing them live. But as things have gone along, I write them more as short stories. That kind of evolution takestime and concentration, which I enjoyed with this record.”

And where should it be filed in bricks-and-mortar record shops? “I guess I’d like to see it filed wherever John Prine is filed,” Cuddy says. “There’s something perfect about his songs. They have a straightforward harmonic structure and are told simply, but they have impact. That’s what I’m going for, too.”

Jim Cuddy - Photo by Christopher Gentile