Corb Lund: Home On the Range

Corb Lund 2020 – Photo by Noah Fallis

Roman Mitz - Open Spaces
Roman Mitz – Open Spaces

The song “Home On the Range” may as well have been written about Corb Lund. A rural Albertan hailing from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with a long family lineage of ranchers and rodeo people, Corb is about as authentic as they come. Before his stint with his band the Hurtin’ Albertans, the singer was an integral part of the smalls, a Canadian indie rock band that mixed punk, speed metal and even country into their eclectic sound. Embracing both his Western heritage and his indie-rock past, Corb filters a range of cowboy themes past and present through his new album “Agricultural Tragic”.  “Tattoos Blues” is a good example of just how diverse Corb can be within one song as he offers up spoken word poetry in the verses and fine blues guitar picking in the chorus.

“I was just reciting the lyrics to the band and one of them suggested we just record it like that,” says Corb, who’s calling from his home in Lethbridge. “I play in the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko Nevada every year so I hear a lot of cowboy poetry and it rubbed off on me. I’m always trying to find different angles so we incorporate all kinds of different roots formats. Some people who play bluegrass and cowboy music try to freeze dry them because they’re super traditional and they don’t really want to mess with them. I’m trying to put it all in a blender and spew it out again.” 

Many of the songs contain a lot of drama, and twists and turns that take the listener through different backwoods settings. Corb documents one of his wildest encounters on the album’s opening track “90 Seconds Of Your Time” The song is based on his hair-raising experience during a visit to Idaho.

“About 10 years ago I was on an elk hunt with some buddies in the mountains of Idaho,” Corb recalls. “The guide we had was from there. He was a retired army ranger instructor and he was a super capable dude. Eight days into the 10-day hike we came back one day and found all of our mules were gone. I guess they somehow became untied, but the ranger guy thought maybe someone stole them. For the next couple of days he was mumbling about how great it was going to be to find these mules in somebody’s camp, and bury those guys because nobody would find their bodies in the mountains. I wasn’t sure if he was serious so I had to take him aside and tell him that I needed 90 seconds of his time to make sure I wasn’t spending the rest of my life in an American prison. I grew up seeing a lot of western stuff but that was probably the most rugged experience I ever had.”  

Not every song details a potential life or death experience as “Ranchin’, Ridin’, Romance” (Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad), is a jaunty number in which an old-timer recounts his ranching and equestrian skills, along with his failings when it came to the ladies.  Another up-tempo tune is “I Think You Oughta Try Whiskey” a rollicking duet with Jaida Dryer. Corb and Jaida trade lines in a manner that recalls the vintage duet performances of Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn.

“Jaida’s an old friend of mine,” Cord says. “She was in the studio doing a different duet with me that hasn’t been released yet. I was trying to get Dolly Parton or somebody to do “Whiskey” with me so I needed a demo.  I had Jaida sing it and she nailed it so we decided to use her version because it was so awesome. She’s got the best ad libs.”

Two of the best ranch songs on the record are of the sentimental variety, “Raining Horses” and “Never Not Had Horses”. The first number is about the economic burden of ranching while the second one comes from a very personal place.

“Raining Horses is about the fact that out here we have too many horses and not enough money. It started out kind of tongue-in-cheek but then I slowed it down and put some minor chords in it.  Music is a weird alchemy at times. It really changed the mood and the whole message of that song when I changed the harmony. It turned into a song about desperation and hope. I really like what my band the Hurtin’ Albertans did on that one. They gave it a kind of 70’s Townes Van Zandt vibe.

“Never Not Had Horses’ is about my mom,” he continues. “It’s a true story. We had to put down the last couple of horses on her ranch a few years ago. She was raised on a ranch and she commented that she’s never not had a horse since she was born. I’ve been wanting to write a song about my mom for quite a while. I’ve written a number of them about my dad and my grandpas and stuff, but I never had the right angle until I heard her say that. She likes the song too.”

One might think that the foregoing bittersweet numbers were contributing factors to the album’s title “Agricultural Tragic”. The title, however, is more about a movement that Corb is fashioning.

“I’ve been sardonically calling my work a sub-genre because we don’t really fit anywhere,” he explains. “We’re sort of cowboy, sort of western swing, sort of rockabilly and sort of bluegrass.  It’s kind of a joking reference to having our own sub-genre, Agricultural Tragic, which is kind of a takeoff on American Gothic.  Whether it’s Americana, Roots music, Texas Red Dirt music or any of it, there’s not much out there with rural content. Not that that’s all I write, but I have done a lot of rural stuff. The tragic part comes from the fact that all of my songs have an element of frailty.”

Corb is really pleased about a number called “Dance With Your Spurs On”, which he wrote with Ned LeDoux, son of the late great singer/songwriter and rodeo champion Chris LeDoux. Corb actually recorded the song twice, once for his l.p. and then again as a more upbeat duet with Ned on the latter’s own album.  (“It’s weird. When people see Ned they think they’re seeing a ghost because he looks and sounds like his dad and he wears the same hat.”) Another song close to Corb is Grizzly Bear Blues; close as in too close for comfort.

“Our ranch is in the southwest corner of Alberta (Cardston) sort of near Waterton Park.  The population of bears has really exploded in the last 10-15 years. It’s pretty intense because there could be a Grizzly around any corner. Out here, every campfire you go to you’re guaranteed that Grizzly stories are going to start coming up.  There’s so much crap out there on whether you should be quiet or loud, or run or don’t run, or climb a tree or play dead. The whole point of the song is the uncertainty of what you’re actually supposed to do when you encounter a Grizzly.”

Those of us who are a little long in the tooth will remember “Rat Patrol” as a 60’s television series which featured a rogue commando unit. Corb’s song of the same name is about a rodent commando unit. You see, there are literally no rats in Alberta thanks to the province’s efforts in eradicating the fur-barin’ critters and preventing new infestations. Corb’s song serves as an anthem celebrating Alberta’s victory over vermin.

“People around here mostly get it but outside of the province folks probably hear it as just kind of a fun song,” Corb explains. “They’ve had a pretty serious rat program here for decades which I think dates back to the 30’s or 40’s. They don’t come from the mountains of B.C., but rather they come up from Montana. There’s a 1-800 number that you call if you see a rat and the Alberta rat control people go out there with shotguns. It’s pretty serious business. We’re the only region in North America that’s rat fee. It’s kind of a thing out here and we’re proud of it. I tell people I’ve written about almost every aspect of Alberta culture. I haven’t written about the Albertasaurus, a dinosaur that lived in this region, so maybe that will be next on my docket.”

What may not be on Corb’s docket that soon are tour dates. He’s scheduled to make his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry on August 29, and he’ s slated to play western U.S. and Canadian dates in September and October but who knows if they will be a go at this stage.

“I’m frustrated because I can’t tour,” Corb says. “I’m not going to bitch about it because we’ve all had our lives impacted by Covid. But it’s the worst time because this is probably the best record we’ve made in the last 10 years. The Grand Ole Opry is cool with postponing my show if need be so I’ll do it eventually. It’s definitely a feather in your cap for a country singer. It’s like playing in the Stanley Cup final.”         

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