Monday, November 23, 2009
I think the first reference to Corb Lund I came across was from a forum friend, who had lyrics from Lund's Horse Soldier in his signature line. The lyrics seemed pretty appropriate, this fellow having been an Army Ranger and Special Forces Reservist, as well as being a cowboy up in the sagebrush north of here. Somehow it got filed away as an “I should check that out, sounds up my alley” sort of thing, and not revisited for quite some time. When I finally did, man, I was impressed.
I grew up listening to good country/western/cowboy music. Rarely, if ever, anything Top 40's country, but more grounded and smart artists like Ian Tyson. They spoke languages I understood, about things I knew, without the pretense of alcoholic hickdom or bad southern ignorant accents. If they spoke of alcoholism it was with the honest voice of experience, with an accent of heritage not fiction. These were men and women who had ribs and hearts broken on the same pieces of beaten out corral ground or pasture land. Not only that, these were people who could truly use words and write complex lyrics. They carried a standard of songwriting that didn't rely on poor, and repetitious rhyme and brutally simple structure. This has become my standard for this type of music.
As I came into my own with music, and stopped listening just to what my parents had on or had around, my tastes went every which way from Sunday. By highschool I was always on the prowl for something new, better, and always anything good. I walked away with strong tastes across the board. From genre to sub-genre and mainstream to obscure. Jazz, classical, blues, funk, metal, punk, ska, reggae, trip-hop, hip-hop, country, rock-a-billy, cow-punk, goth, experimental instrumental, trance, techno, world, tribal, native, you name it I can find some of it I like (probably in my library). At the top of my likes are, consistently, original artists of varied backgrounds musically and personally who are songwriters and participate with good songwriters. Any genre, really, anyone who brings originality to their work, from a variety of influences and styles, and is, or works with, good writers really grabs me.
I am particularly a fan of music that crosses the genre divide between the music I listened to as a kid, and the music I came into as a teenager and adult. There are folk acts, and rock acts, and cowboy acts, but there are relatively few who are a blend of these things, or who have obvious roots in all these places. Corb Lund, and his excellent band the Hurtin' Albertans are just such an act. There is a lot going on there, in the music itself and the backgrounds and tastes of Lund and his band. Lund spent a good amount of time as a rock and roller with the influential indie punk band The Smalls. The Hurtin' Albertans are all experienced musicians and have played with a wide variety of acts. These forces come together as one hell of an alt country act.
Lund is one of the types of singer/songwriters I like the most, in that his work is uniquely his. The songs carry a depth of interest and a breadth of experience, in an intelligent, considered and ultimately entertaining manner. There is humor, violence, sadness, joy, winning, losing, and picking yourself up and getting back on again. Hauling horses, playing cards, tattooed dark haired girls, soldiers ancient and present, cussin', western history, whiskey, and the best advice of our fathers and grandfathers are just a few of the elements to be found in Lund's songwriting. Each, in its own turn, is masterfully handled by his lyrics and singing, drawing the listener to laughter or tears as appropriate.
The music not only does credit to the lyrics, but sometimes entirely steals a song. The Hurtin' Albertans are obviously a group of individually talented musicians who can create something together that's even more powerful. They can range from rollicking honky-tonk, to weeping sadness, and points in between. The Hurtin' Albertans shine together, and given the opportunity as individual contributors to the whole. My favorite example of this is Kurt Ciesla's bass fiddle intro to There Are No Roads Here from a show recorded at McGonigels Mucky Duck of Houston, Tx. - It's simply masterful in its control, and moving darkness. Not to discredit the other band members, Brady Valgardson, on drums, and Grant Siemens on guitar and banjo do no less credible a job, and all edge on the phenomenal. My gothic leanings are simply drawn to the darker sounds of the “big bitch butch bass bull fiddle” on that particular piece.
There-in lies the nut of the whole deal, for this is, without a doubt, my kind of music. I've read reviews where the reviewer was alienated by the talk of horses, and country things, and others by talk of war and soldiers (some by both), and all I can think is that I'm certainly glad I'm not them. I am at home with all the themes and topics Lund sings about, because they already were my home. Having kept time to everything from Chris LeDoux to The Distillers with Crockett spurs jingling on my boots, its great to hear the myriad influences at work in the music and songwriting Corb Lund and The Hurtin' Albertans bring to the game. Music, on whole, is fundamental but there is something special about music that can cross the genre divides within ones own life and culture.
There is something in this music for almost anyone. More than it being just the music for a weirdo post- goth/cowboy hybrid, this is music that gives something to almost anyone who listens to it. That reviewers can be alienated by the themes of the songs, yet still come down absolutely in favor of them is a testament to this. Certainly, Corb Lund is not your fathers country, but your father will like it.
Some may be thrown by the unusual mix of influences and fans for this music, and alt country in general, and to them I'd say just give it a whirl. Worst that can happen is you won't like it. Best that could happen is... Well, who knows? While you're making up your mind, I'm gonna be listening to some Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans.
Those of you interested in more from Corb and crew, I encourage you to go buy one (or all) of the records right away, but to be more realistic be sure to check out the other videos on the youtube channel, and take advantage of the live recordings available at Archive.org - http://www.archive.org/details/CorbLund
I've only listened to a couple of these shows, but they're absolutely fantastic. Some overlap, of course, but worth checking out. I suggest this concert from September 2007 at McGonigels Mucky Duck in Houston, Tx. - http://www.archive.org/details/corblund2007-09-21.sbd.flac (This is the show I mentioned above where Kurt Ciesla does his fantastic intro for There Are No Roads Here – It's great listening and has convinced me I need to see this outfit live sometime).