Jim Cuddy, co-frontman for Canada's venerable Blue Rodeo, has rarely sounded better. At 62, his voice remains as uncannily clear, affecting and inviting as it was back in his band's 1990s heyday. But age has deepened the tones a touch or two, and warmed up the edges; it's a remarkable, enviable gift, and no small part of what has kept Cuddy in the game for so long. Even on otherwise average material, his vocal work is often astonishingly beautiful.
Not much on Constellation, Cuddy's fourth solo outing (and first since 2011's terrific Skyscraper Soul), will surprise longtime fans. Cuddy has long since perfected the art of the country-pop song, and Constellation is a typically reliable collection. But this is a bit of faint praise, since the consistency that has kept Cuddy from too many misfires over 30 years of songwriting is also what makes him somewhat predictable. He has crafted a unique and eminently recognizable voice in a business where that's exceedingly difficult, but this signature sound has become a bit of a creative trap.
Still, what he offers on Constellation is better than most of what we get from a generation of Cuddy's admirers and acolytes, and for this we are thankful. On the mandolin-driven stomp of "Where You Gonna Run," we catch a glimpse of a back porch jam that's as irresistible as it is fleeting, while on album standout "Hands On the Glass," with its driving shuffle and menacing guitars, Cuddy reminds us of what he can do when he and his crack band stretch into more expansive sonic territory. Even if much of the album feels a bit familiar, it's hard to complain much when it all sounds so sweet. (Warner)